Every now and again, a picture is returned from space that is so stunning it becomes an instant icon, a touchstone that defines what space travel is about.
The Chinese engineering lunar test mission Chang’e 5-T1 has sent home precisely such an image. It is stunning almost beyond words.
The Earth hangs like a white and blue bauble in the black of space, distant and heart-achingly beautiful. Much closer lies the Moon, gray and white and black, its more-unfamiliar far side facing the spacecraft as it rounds the world, preparing to head back to Earth. For just a fleeting moment I could have been convinced someone had added a photo of the planet Mercury here; the Moon’s obverse half is so strikingly different than the near side. The lack of dark maria (except for Mare Moscoviense to the upper left) makes the Moon look like every bit the alien world that it really is.
You can read more about this astonishing image, and see more like it, at the Planetary Society Blog.
As I gazed upon it, though, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it looked somehow familiar. Then it occurred to me: I have seen it before. I even remember the exact date: Sept. 13, 1999.
Life sometimes really does imitate art.
Tip o’ the commlink to Emily Lakdawalla.