There are a myriad of satellites in orbit of Earth with cameras that can send back amazing photos, but they can’t snap a photo of the entire planet at once. NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) camera can, though. It sends back thousands of amazing photos every year, and now you can peruse them more easily with the new website. It is, dare I say, epic.
EPIC is a 4MP CCD camera with a telescope mounted on the NOAA DSCOVR satellite (Deep Space Climate Observatory, informally known as GoreSat). It was launched in 2015 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, but it wasn’t just headed to low-Earth orbit like so many other payloads.
The DSCOVR satellite made its way out to the L1 Lagrangian point. Lagrangian points are locations of gravitational equilibrium between two bodies. In this case, L1 allows the satellite to remain in between Earth and the sun. It always has a view of the daylight side of Earth, which is ideal for taking images. The instrument is 1 million miles away from Earth and 92 million miles away from the sun.
The DSCOVR satellite has several other instruments, but what we’re interested in here is NASA’s EPIC camera. It’s designed to take 10 narrow-band spectral images of Earth from 317 to 780 nanometers. It combines those into an image that looks much like what the human eye would see. You can see above an example image with natural color on the left and enhanced color on the right.
EPIC captures an image every hour from mid-April to mid-October, and one every two hours for the rest of the year. That adds up to a huge number of images, all available for public consumption. The new EPIC site makes that a more pleasant experience. There’s not a floating magnifier feature that lets you see up close what’s in each image. Over on the left is the image info box that tells you when the image was acquired. That’s important because the axial tilt will determine which hemisphere is most visible at different times of the year. If you want to see a different view, there’s a filmstrip at the bottom to page through images and a calendar on the left to jump farther.
There’s a gallery on the site that shows off some of the more notable images like moon transits and eclipses (which are amazing). And of course, you can download any image you want from the site.