Watch as the MESSENGER probe looks back to Earth, bids our fair planet adieu

NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, which is on an eight-years-and-counting mission to map and analyze the surface of Mercury, took the opportunity to look over its shoulder as it left Earth’s orbit for the first—and last—time.

MESSENGER has orbited Mercury over 2000 times since March 18, 2011, and is scheduled to crash-land on the surface of the solar system’s innermost planet when it completes its survey. Periodically, it’ll check out our home planet and send us a picture from an astronomical unit (plus or minus a bit) away.

The MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) mission just completed its first full map of Mercury’s surface, and has teamed up with Google Earth to let you explore the planet online (Google Planet?). Meanwhile, NASA put together a time-lapse video of MESSENGER’s photos taken while leaving Earth - a haunting view of our home disappearing into the darkness of space.

Of course, the 13-second video doesn’t show the full story—the July 23 Astronomy Picture of the Day shows MESSENGER’s view of Earth from Mercury’s orbit, about 2/3 AU from us. But in those 13 seconds of video, it’s easy to imagine yourself as a little spacefaring robot, leaving home forever to explore a new world for the first time since 1975.

[NASA APOD via IO9]

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