This is what it looks like to fly past the Earth in a spaceship

Nasa's Juno probe flew past us in October, capturing footage of the Earth and Moon moving through space.

There are many images of our home planet taken from space, and they rarely fail to put things in perspective. Yet, have you ever seen our planet, from space, in motion?

The video above was taken by Nasa's Juno probe as it flew past us on 23 October. That grey mass to the left of the screen at the start, drifting right, is the Moon, orbiting the blue Earth. This is what it would look like to approach the Earth in a spaceship. It is incredibly cool. (And that music? That's a composition by Vangelis, the guy who did the soundtracks for Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire - Nasa has good taste.)

Juno, as its name may suggest, is on its way to explore Jupiter. It launched in August 2011, with enough momentum to reach as far as the asteroid belt before gravity pulled it back in towards the Sun - all part of Nasa's plan. As it reached the Earth again and skimmed past it received a gravity boost of a further 7.3km/s relative to the Sun, which should give it the velocity needed to reach Jupiter on the other side of the Solar System by July 2016. Once it's in orbit there, it will study the gas giant's clouds, and what's beneath them.

The video Nasa made of Juno's flypast opens with the probe roughly a million kilometres from Earth. The Moon's orbit is roughly 385,000km, which explains why the Moon shoots off to the right as Juno moves inside its orbit. Juno actually spins as it's flying along, twice per minute, so this video is a sped up one with two frames captured per minute of the same angle by Nasa engineers.

In other "things flying closely past the Earth" news, asteroid 2013 XY flew through our neighbourhood this morning:

It's probably between 30 and 70 metres across, which is considerably larger than the 15-20 metre Chelyabinsk meteor of February this year. And, best of all, we only spotted it five days ago. That's not a lot of warning for something potentially destructive (though, just to emphasise, there's no chance of this thing hitting us). Still, it goes to show just how big space is, and how little of it we know about, even in what we might consider our local community.

Ian Steadman is a staff science and technology writer at the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @iansteadman.

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Fark.com’s censorship story is a striking insight into Google’s unchecked power

The founder of the community-driven website claims its advertising revenue was cut off for five weeks.

When Microsoft launched its new search engine Bing in 2009, it wasted no time in trying to get the word out. By striking a deal with the producers of the American teen drama Gossip Girl, it made a range of beautiful characters utter the words “Bing it!” in a way that fell clumsily on the audience’s ears. By the early Noughties, “search it” had already been universally replaced by the words “Google it”, a phrase that had become so ubiquitous that anything else sounded odd.

A screenshot from Gossip Girl, via ildarabbit.wordpress.com

Like Hoover and Tupperware before it, Google’s brand name has now become a generic term.

Yet only recently have concerns about Google’s pervasiveness received mainstream attention. Last month, The Observer ran a story about Google’s auto-fill pulling up the suggested question of “Are Jews evil?” and giving hate speech prominence in the first page of search results. Within a day, Google had altered the autocomplete results.

Though the company’s response may seem promising, it is important to remember that Google isn’t just a search engine (Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has too many subdivisions to mention). Google AdSense is an online advertising service that allows many websites to profit from hosting advertisements on its pages, including the New Statesman itself. Yesterday, Drew Curtis, the founder of the internet news aggregator Fark.com, shared a story about his experiences with the service.

Under the headline “Google farked us over”, Curtis wrote:

“This past October we suffered a huge financial hit because Google mistakenly identified an image that was posted in our comments section over half a decade ago as an underage adult image – which is a felony by the way. Our ads were turned off for almost five weeks – completely and totally their mistake – and they refuse to make it right.”

The image was of a fully-clothed actress who was an adult at the time, yet Curtis claims Google flagged it because of “a small pedo bear logo” – a meme used to mock paedophiles online. More troubling than Google’s decision, however, is the difficulty that Curtis had contacting the company and resolving the issue, a process which he claims took five weeks. He wrote:

“During this five week period where our ads were shut off, every single interaction with Google Policy took between one to five days. One example: Google Policy told us they shut our ads off due to an image. Without telling us where it was. When I immediately responded and asked them where it was, the response took three more days.”

Curtis claims that other sites have had these issues but are too afraid of Google to speak out publicly. A Google spokesperson says: "We constantly review publishers for compliance with our AdSense policies and take action in the event of violations. If publishers want to appeal or learn more about actions taken with respect to their account, they can find information at the help centre here.”

Fark.com has lost revenue because of Google’s decision, according to Curtis, who sent out a plea for new subscribers to help it “get back on track”. It is easy to see how a smaller website could have been ruined in a similar scenario.


The offending image, via Fark

Google’s decision was not sinister, and it is obviously important that it tackles things that violate its policies. The lack of transparency around such decisions, and the difficulty getting in touch with Google, are troubling, however, as much of the media relies on the AdSense service to exist.

Even if Google doesn’t actively abuse this power, it is disturbing that it has the means by which to strangle any online publication, and worrying that smaller organisations can have problems getting in contact with it to solve any issues. In light of the recent news about Google's search results, the picture painted becomes more even troubling.

Update, 13/01/17:

Another Google spokesperson got in touch to provide the following statement: “We have an existing set of publisher policies that govern where Google ads may be placed in order to protect users from harmful, misleading or inappropriate content.  We enforce these policies vigorously, and taking action may include suspending ads on their site. Publishers can appeal these actions.”

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.