Big Blue Marble Redux: Earth’s Flipside, and a Goldilocks Planet

NASA releases far side of the Big Blue Marble as reports surface of a Goldilocks planet, which could support earthlike life, a mere 22 lightyears away.

The first reissue of the Big Blue Marble image of Earth last week was so popular, Wired UK reports, that hits on Flickr surpassed those on the previous high record, the Situation Room shot taken at the time of Osama bin Laden’s assassination.

It’s an interesting comparison, given that on February 2, NASA oceanographer Norman Kuring, who compiled last week’s image, went to the far side of the Earth to compile this view showing the Eastern Hemisphere with Africa, Saudi Arabia and India.

It’s a composite of data from six separate orbits that the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) took on January 23, NASA said in a statement. The new instrument, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), obtained the images with a viewpoint that is 7,918 miles above Earth’s surface, NASA said. As a bonus, VIIRS captured sunlight bouncing off the ocean, which comes across as four vertical smoky lines.

Last week’s image was of the Western Hemisphere, with North and South Americas in full view.

The new image, above, is almost the same view as the iconic 1972 photograph that started the whole thing, which shows the Arabian Peninsula at the northeastern edge of Africa, with Madagascar off the coast of Africa and the Asian mainland is on the horizon to the northeast.

As it turns out, Mother Earth may not be the only shimmering blue marble in the skies. The Carnegie Institution for Science announced on February 2 the discovery of a so-called Goldilocks planet, one that falls solidly into the “habitable” realm, meaning that it has a very good chance of hosting conditions necessary to foster life.

The main condition necessary is water, and this planet falls in the temperature zone that water could remain liquid in, said Carnegie in a statement.

The skies would look very different from this planet, Carnegie said. For one thing, the system has three suns, although this “super earth,” as it has been dubbed, orbits just one of them. Even more confounding, the scientists said, is that the planet cruises around its sun, a red dwarf, in just 28 days—talk about the years flying by!

According to Carnegie, this new planet, whose real name is GJ 667Cc, receives just 90 percent of the light that Earth does, but that is mitigated by the infrared nature of the light, which means the planet will absorb a higher percentage of the energy, making the end result the same in terms of energy absorption. That could lead to liquid water, though the atmosphere remains in question. The planet is also 4.5 times larger than Earth.

Although much more study is needed, “This planet is the new best candidate to support liquid water and, perhaps, life as we know it,” Guillem Anglada-Escudé, one of the leaders of the study, said in the Carnegie statement. The full results will be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.