Year after year, space probes we send travelling in our Solar System send us back amazing images of our planetary neighbours. With bigger probes packed with more sensitive cameras and detectors, space has never been closer to your home. These videos will make you feel like you’re there. And perhaps one day you will be. In the mean time, sit back, relax, click on HD and fullscreen and enjoy.
I’ll start with this stunning view taken from Mars orbit by the European Space Agency probe Mars Express, which has been orbiting the Red Planet for almost 10 years.
Wow! As the probe orbits towards the dark side of the planet, you can see one of Mars’ poles just before the night line and yes, there is a polar ice cap, partly made up of carbon dioxide ice. It looks like this is the south one, measuring around 400 km. And here’s a fun fact: As much as 30% of Mars’ tenuous CO2 atmosphere freezes and adds to the ice caps in winter when the pole is in darkness, only to sublimate in spring. At 0:14 you can see the humongous Valles Marineris, a giant scar on the planet’s surface. With its 4,000 km length, up to 200 km width, and 7 km depth, it’s the largest visible canyon in the Solar System. Imagine standing on the edge of it!
Closer to home, NASA recently posted this unusual video of the Moon rotating, showing its dark side as well. Because the moon is tidally locked to Earth (it rotates on its axis in the time it takes to circle the Earth), we always see the same side of it. This video was made possible thanks to a mosaic of images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which, as you guessed from its name, is in orbit around the Moon (since 2009). Notice how “our” side is much less cratered, featuring the famous maria, the dark-coloured basaltic plains caused by volcanic eruptions in the Moon’s distant past.
Not close enough for you? Watch this fly-over. In 2008, the space probe SELENE from the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) equipped with a high definition camera, filmed this gorgeous view from Moon orbit , crowned by an Earth rise. It really makes you feel like an astronaut. Just stunning. Cute fact: SELENE is better known by its nickname Kaguya, the Moon Princess in the 10th century Japanese legend The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.
The little spacecraft also flew above the Apollo 11 landing site with gorgeous views of craters on the way.
If you’re looking for more intense sensations, watch this video of Curiosity’s descent on Mars. Curiosity is the 1-ton SUV-sized plutonium-powered rover from NASA that landed on Mars a little over a year ago. Notice the heat shield dropping at the start and then landing far below at 0:21. And just before landing, the dust raised by the thrusters being fired from the sky crane to stabilise Curiosity’s descent just meters from the ground. Cool fact: the descent lasted 7 minutes, dubbed the “7 minutes of terror” as the probe was flying on its own and its unique crane system had not been tested on Earth before.
Curiosity wasn’t the first one to film its descent though. In 2005 Huygens, the little ESA probe attached to NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, filmed its descent onto Titan with a fish-eye camera. Going through the thick clouds that cover the moon, you can start seeing surface features like mountains and river beds, until the probe lands. The flight data around the image is real and provides great context to the fall. Cool fact: Titan’s lakes and rivers are believed to be made of liquid methane.
This one shows great footage from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, a solar-observation satellite launched in 2010. It shows accelerated footage of the 2012 transit of Venus across the Sun in different wavelengths, showing different features of the Sun (sun spots, coronal mass ejections, surface activity, etc.). In reality, the transit took almost 7 h. Notice the size of our star compared to the planet! Cool fact: the next transit will be in…2117. This is due to what is called the commensurability (rational proportion) between Earth’s and Venus’ rotation periods, which is 8:13. (in the time it takes Earth to do 8 turns around the Sun, Venus does 13, consequently they are rarely aligned!)
Of course, I can’t close this article without putting a stunning timelapse from the International Space Station. At roughly 400 km above us, the ISS has a prime view of Earth. You can clearly recognize cities, entire countries and other features. Italy, Greece, Malta, the Nile river, etc all fly past. Notice how thin the atmosphere is. The purple flashes are lightning. And the beautiful green waves of auroras seen from above. Surreal and yet so real.
All this amazing footage helps foster interest in space and creates wonder and awe. It’s a great tool to bring home the reality of space and inspire younger generations in the space age.
In short, science is amazing.
Note: If you have more amazing videos I forgot to include in this non-exhaustive list, feel free to share them in the comments section!