As in taking pix of earth, not just happen to point towards earth during a maneuver or whatever.

  • $\begingroup$ There are telescopes similar in some respects to Hubble that do point at the Earth... $\endgroup$
    – antlersoft
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ @antlersoft Ahhh, c'mon, just say "lacrosse" and be done with it! :-) $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, much more similar probes, using similar technologies, are watching the Earth as the sky. $\endgroup$
    – peterh
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 21:51

2 Answers 2


xkcd already did the math on this one!

Like Gauti's answer, xkcd also links to this question on Hubble's website. Hubble moves too fast for its minimum exposure time to be able to focus on anything on the surface. He goes one step further, linking to this article on Bad Astronomy that points out that Hubble frequently points at the sunlight side of Earth to help calibrate its WFPC2 camera.

Still, you may be surprised to find out that Hubble routinely points at the Earth! It uses the bright, daylit Earth to help calibrate one of the cameras on board. The Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2, pronounced ``whiff pick 2'') is an electronic device which detects light, and is similar in principle to a normal digital camera. However, it is far more sensitive, and astronomers are very particular about how well they understand such devices. They want to make sure that every part of the detector is very well calibrated.

One way to calibrate the camera is to look at some bright, evenly lit object. If one part of the detector is more sensitive than another, for example, then part of that object will look brighter, even if in reality it isn't. This can be used to correct any later images.

In space there aren't any flat fields you can use, but we do have one right here: the Earth. To calibrate WFPC2, sometimes Hubble is pointed straight down at the Earth. As the terrain (or water or whatever) streaks across the field of view it forms a very crude flat field image. The image is called a ``streak flat'', and looks really weird. Trees, houses, all sorts of objects blur across the image. It takes a lot of sophisticated computer processing to turn this into a real flat field for Hubble to use, but luckily there are a lot of smart people working on the problem.

xkcd also shows an approximation of what it would look like if you tried to take a picture of an average desk from orbit. It is just a smear of colors, devoid of any discernible detail. I tried attaching the pictures here, but SE doesn't like the png files for some reason and I don't have time to do the file conversion. Just check out the first link to see what it looks like, plus a more detailed explanation of why.

  • $\begingroup$ But the pics from the space station are clear. And it travels at a similar speed. Is it because of the shudder speed is quicker on the cameras from the space station? $\endgroup$
    – iMerchant
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 23:06
  • $\begingroup$ Good question @iMerchant. Conveniently, Wikipedia has a page listing cameras on the ISS. I clicked on a handful of the camera models, it looks like they are all using faster shutter speeds. Also, these cameras aren't taking detailed, close up surface pictures, they are taking distant shots of massive areas of the surface. That distinction is important for clarity. That would make a great follow up question, surely someone here can give a more comprehensive answer. $\endgroup$
    – Cody
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 23:58
  • $\begingroup$ Chris Hadfield, when he was up there, took detailed pics with his Hasselblad. Must have been faster shudder speed. $\endgroup$
    – iMerchant
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 0:01
  • $\begingroup$ The camera calibration done with a bright, uniformly lit object is also used in amateur astrophotography. It's called flat frame calibration and it's a routine part of the process for everyone in this field (unless all you do is small size planetary imaging, in which case you probably don't need it). The overall calibration process is much more complex than just that; it includes dark frame calibration and other techniques. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 19:52

The surface of the Earth is whizzing by as Hubble orbits, and the pointing system, designed to track the distant stars, cannot track an object on the Earth. The shortest exposure time on any of the Hubble instruments is 0.1 seconds, and in this time Hubble moves about 700 meters, or almost half a mile. So a picture Hubble took of Earth would be all streaks.


  • $\begingroup$ That may be true but does not address the question of whether it happened $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 13:58

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .