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New blue planet: Japan’s Hayabusa probe snapped a stunning picture of the home planet this week from a distance of 185,000 miles (295,000 kilometers), during a flyby on the way to the asteroid Itokawa. MUSES C) came within 2,350 miles (3,725 kilometers) of Earth on Wednesday, getting a gravitational boost that should help it reach Itokawa in June 2005. The spacecraft, which was launched a year ago, is designed to bring samples of the space rock back to Earth, with a parachute descent to the Australian Outback scheduled in June 2007.

On its way through the Earth moon system, Hayabusa also took a couple of snapshots of the moon’s far side. Click on over to Astrobiology Magazine for more about the pictures and Hayabusa’s mission.

Story continues below advertisement your ad hereThisfull diskview of Earth was captured by Hayabusa’s Asteroid Multiband Imaging Camera, or AMICA.

In the future, we’re likely to be seeing more and more of such systems on spacecraft. To learn how ion engines work, check out our archived Deep Space 1 interactive.

Hayabusa’s postcard is reminiscent of a similarly evocative picture of Earth and the moon captured by the Japanese spacecraft Nozomi back in 1998, when that probe was headed for to Mars. Let’s hope Hayabusa is luckier than Nozomi, which had to take a years long detour on its way to the Red Planet and suffered a mission ending glitch before it even arrived.

Deliciously bad update: We’re getting a good number of entries in our “Deliciously Bad” science movie plot contest, but there’s always room for more particularly if they’re delicious. And feel free to come up with a new disaster movie in the spirit of “10.5” or “The Day After Tomorrow.” For example: “Pole cano!” Here’s another example sent in by D. Williams:

“Armageddon II: Nemesis Rising” “The ‘Harmonic Convergence’ of the last century had an unseen effect. Nemesis, our sun’s long sought dark companion, has been pulled out of its orbit and is now heading for Earth. Our heroes head to Antarctica to construct the housing for the ‘World Engine.’ Can they meet the deadline? Can the earth be saved? Can Greenpeace save the penguins before their home is torched?”

The problem is, that almost sounds too much like a real Hollywood movie to be funny. ET

Wonders in western skies: Celestial jewels are piling up after sunset tonight and Friday night. The stars of the show are the twin crescents of the just past new moon and the planet Venus.

The two crescents are so close in the sky that observers in Europe and parts of Asia and Africa just might see the moon pass in front of Venus on Friday, a phenomenon known as occultation.
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