Italy in an espresso cup
This cloudless view of central and northern Italy, the snow-capped Alps and the European heartland was snapped by an experimental camera, smaller than an espresso cup, aboard ESA’s minisatellite Proba-2.
This black and white image gives a wider perspective than a standard Earth observation instrument, more like an astronaut’s eye view, but was taken at around double the altitude that human crews currently fly, at more than 700 km up.
A sequence of crater lakes can be seen along central Italy – from south to north, Lake Bracciano, the smaller Lake Vico, Lake Bolsena and Lake Trasimeno. The Apennine chain of mountains is also visible, forming the spine of the Italian peninsula. Sardinia and Corsica are viewed towards bottom left.
Beneath the curved horizon the UK and Ireland to the left, the North Sea and Denmark to the right can also be glimpsed. The image also captures the whole of Switzerland – where this image’s instrument was designed and built.
Less than a cubic metre in size, Proba-2 focuses on observing solar activity and space weather. But it also keeps a small eye on its home world.
One of the 17 experimental technologies hosted on Proba-2 is the compact Exploration Camera, X-Cam. Housed on the underside of the satellite, the monochrome X-Cam observes in the visible and infrared with a 100° field of view.
X-Cam comes with embedded intelligence to let it judge automatically the best exposures for optimised image quality.
Similar compact imagers could in future keep watch on satellite surfaces to look out for damage or environmental effects.
Swiss manufacturer Micro-Cameras & Space Exploration is due to fly cameras on ESA's Sentinel-1 Earth observation mission – launching this year – as well as the BepiColombo planetary science missions later this decade.
And in 2014 the company’s miniature imager on Rosetta’s lander should provide us with our closest view yet of a comet’s surface.
This image was acquired by Proba-2’s X-Cam on 7 June 2013.