Earth is actually a fragile and isolated rock, a “blue marble” in a vast, cold and hostile space. But only after seeing our planet from space we truly understood that. Seeing the Earth first time from a distance was a powerful experience that has changed the way we see our planet. Here are the top 10 most iconic photos of Earth from space.
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10. The first photo of Earth from space
Long before the space age has begun in 1957 with the Soviet-made Sputnik 1, on October 24, 1946, the first photo of Earth from space has been taken. On October 24, 1946, scientists launched a Nazi-built V-2 rocket (No. 13) from the White Sands Missile Range, a United States Army rocket range in southern New Mexico. There was a 35-millimeter motion picture camera aboard the rocket, and when the rocket reached 105 km (65 mi), this black-and-white photo was taken. The rocket was one of the V-2 rockets captured and moved to the US at the end of World War II.
Related: First footage of Earth from space
9. The Breathtaking Earthrise from the LRO
This stunningly beautiful earthrise image composed from a series of images taken on October 12, 2015, when Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) was about 83 miles (134 kilometers) above the moon’s farside crater Compton. It was published on December 18, 2015. In this composite image we see Earth appear to rise over the lunar horizon from the viewpoint of the spacecraft, with the center of the Earth just off the coast of Liberia (at 4.04 degrees North, 12.44 degrees West).
The large tan area in the upper right is the Sahara Desert, and just beyond is Saudi Arabia. The Atlantic and Pacific coasts of South America are visible to the left. On the moon, we get a glimpse of the crater Compton, which is located just beyond the eastern limb of the moon, on the lunar farside. Definitely one of the most beautiful images of Earth from space.
Launched on June 18, 2009, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is a NASA unmanned robotic spacecraft currently orbiting the Moon in an eccentric polar mapping orbit.
8. Earth and Moon from Mars
This amazing image of Earth and Moon was taken on November 20, 2016, by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a multipurpose spacecraft designed to conduct reconnaissance and exploration of Mars from orbit. The image is so incredible that from the distance of 127 million miles (approx. 205 million km), we still can see even the continents and clouds of Earth.
Dr. Alfred McEwen explained that “In the image, the reddish feature near the middle of the face of Earth is Australia. Vegetation appears red in this image. The red spot in the middle of the Earth is Australia, the one on the top left is Southeast Asia and Antarctica is the bright white blob in the bottom left. Other bright areas are clouds”.
7. The First Photo of the Earth and Moon in a Single Frame
This photo of the Earth and Moon in a single frame is the first of its kind. It was recorded on September 18, 1977, by NASA’s Voyager 1 when it was 7.25 million miles (11.66 million kilometers) from Earth. In view on the Earth are eastern Asia, the western Pacific Ocean, and part of the Arctic. Voyager 1 was directly above Mt. Everest (on the night side of the planet at 25 degrees north latitude) when the picture was taken.
The photo was made from three images taken through color filters, then processed by the Image Processing Lab at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Because the Earth is many times brighter than the Moon, the Moon was artificially brightened by a factor of three relative to the Earth by computer enhancement so that both bodies would show clearly in the prints.
In the original photo, the Moon is above Earth. I rotated the photo 90° counter-clockwise for a better view.
6. The Day the Earth Smiled
In the image taken on July 19, 2013, the wide-angle camera on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has captured Saturn’s rings and our planet Earth and its moon in the same frame. Earth, which is 898 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) away in this image, appears as a blue dot at center right; the moon can be seen as a fainter protrusion off its right side. If you couldn’t spot the Earth, you can also see the annotated version.
5. The First View of Earth From the Moon
On August 23, 1966, the world received its first view of Earth taken by a spacecraft from the vicinity of the Moon. The photo was transmitted to Earth by the Lunar Orbiter I uncrewed robotic spacecraft and received at the NASA tracking station at Robledo De Chavela near Madrid, Spain. The image was taken during the spacecraft’s 16th orbit. Lunar Orbiter I was part of the NASA’s Lunar Orbiter Program and was the first American spacecraft to orbit the Moon.
4. Earth between the rings of Saturn
This photo showing Earth between the rings of Saturn is the last Earth view of Cassini-Huygens spacecraft which was destroyed by diving into Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15, 2017. This method of disposal was planned to avoid potential biological contamination of Saturn’s moons, since Titan, Enceladus, and other icy moons of Saturn may harbor oceans and alien life.
3. The First Earthrise
On December 24, 1968, the crew of Apollo 8, the second human spaceflight mission in the US Apollo space program, were the first humans to witness Earthrise. The “Earthrise” was photographed by astronauts on board Apollo 8 (Frank Borman, Commander; William A. Anders, Lunar Module Pilot; and James A. Lovell, Command Module Pilot). It is one of the most famous photos ever taken and became the symbol of one the greatest explorations in history: human’s first journey to another world, and then the crewmembers looking back saw their home planet.
2. The Blue Marble
On December 7, 1972, the crew of Apollo 17 spacecraft (Eugene A. Cernan, mission commander; Ronald E. Evans, command module pilot; and Harrison H. Schmitt, lunar module pilot) en route to the Moon took which became one of the most iconic photos of Earth from the space, at a distance about 45,000 kilometers (28,000 miles). This image, with the official NASA designation AS17-148-22727, became known as “The Blue Marble”.
This outstanding trans-lunar coast photograph extends from the Mediterranean Sea area to the Antarctica south polar ice cap. This is the first time the Apollo trajectory made it possible to photograph the south polar ice cap.
In fact, it was not the first clear image of Earth from space – similar photos had already been taken as early as 1967. But, the 1970s were the scene of a big surge in environmental activism. For example, on April 22, 1970, the first “Earth Day” organized by Gaylord Nelson, former senator of Wisconsin, and Denis Hayes, Harvard graduate student. Millions of people gather in the United States for the event.
So, in today’s terms, image AS17-148-22727 went “viral” and became a symbol of the environmental movement, as a depiction of Earth’s frailty, vulnerability, and isolation amid the vast expanse of space. According to the NASA archivist Mike Gentry, it is among the most widely distributed images in human history.
1. Pale Blue Dot
Probably the most iconic photo of Earth from space. It is known as “Pale Blue Dot“. At the request of Carl Sagan, the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which had completed its primary mission and was leaving the Solar System, was commanded by NASA to turn its camera around and to take a photograph of Earth across a great expanse of space. In the photograph, the Earth is shown as a fraction of a pixel (0.12 pixel in size) against the vastness of space. The photo was taken about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles, 40 AU) from Earth.
“Consider again that dot [Earth]. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space