NASA’s Lucy probe, a mission to a group of asteroids near Jupiter, flew past Earth on Oct. 16 and took some stunning photos of our planet and the moon before retreating to deep space. Earlier this week, the US space agency released the images Lucy’s cameras captured of the Earth and moon as they came as far as 224 miles (about 361 kilometers) to Earth — lower than the orbit of the International Space Station (ISS).
The first of the two Earth images, taken by Lucy on October 13, highlighted the incredible distance between the Earth and the moon. According to the NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) press release, the two bodies sitting on opposite edges of the frame were about 890,000 miles (1.4 million kilometers) from Lucy at the time.
The second photo taken on October 15 is a close-up of Earth taken at a distance of about 380,000 (620,000 km). In the image, Hadar, Ethiopia — home to the 3.2-million-year-old human ancestor fossil — is visible at the leftmost edge of the planet.
Lucy also took pictures of the moon on October 16. The photos were taken while Lucy was between Earth and the moon, about 260,000 miles (260,000 km) from the moon, so it showed a perspective familiar to Earth-based observers.
NASA’s Lucy probe was launched in 2021. It is the first mission to the Jupiter Trojan asteroids – two swarms of space rocks that share the orbit of the giant planet.
This month’s flyby was the first of three such maneuvers the spacecraft will use to get up to speed to visit the Jupiter Trojans. According to NASA, the spacecraft will perform another close buzz of our planet in 2024 before finally going into deep space. During its 12-year journey, Lucy will fly past a record number of asteroids and examine their diversity, looking for clues to better understand the formation of the solar system.