Views of Earth from Space

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The only known planet that supports life, Planet Earth stands alone in our universe. Over the decades, the geography of the Earth has been captured by astronauts and spacecraft from space.

As satellite imagery and photography have improved, view of Earth from near space have become sharper and more detailed. Technology has enabled spacecraft to captured images of Earth from the Mars and the outer solar system.

First Global Composite View of Earth – 1965

450 satellite photos were assembled from then recently launched Television Infrared Observation Satellite (TIROS-IX) in 1965. The resulting composite was the first such assembled global image of the Earth created from satellite imagery. The assembled image shows the Earth’s cloud cover as it was on February 13, 1965.

Composite view of the Earth, Television Infrared Observation Satellite (TIROS-IX), 1965.  Image:  NASA.
Composite view of the Earth, Television Infrared Observation Satellite (TIROS-IX), 1965. Image: NASA.

First Color Image of Earth from Space

On July 1, 1967, the Department of Defense Gravitational Experiment (DODGE) satellite was launched with a mission to conduct gravity-gradient stabilization experiments from a near-geostationary orbit.  On September 20, 1967, a black and white 22° field-of-view TV camera took three separate photos of the Earth 18,000 miles from space: one with a red, one with a green, and the third with a blue filter (Mobley, 1968 and Schenkel, 1967).  The combined images created the first color image of the Earth from space. More: The First Color Images of the Earth from Space

On September 20, 1967, the first color image of the Earth was captured onboard the DODGE satellite.
On September 20, 1967, the first color image of the Earth was captured onboard the DODGE satellite.

Earth Viewed by Apollo 8 – 1968

Astronauts onboard Apollo 8 in late December 1968 captured this view of Earth. The view shows much of the Western Hemisphere with clouds cover much of North America to the north while the southeastern US coastline and the Florida peninsula are visible. All of South America can be seen in this photo of Earth although most of the continent is shrouded in clouds except for a strip of the Atacama Desert. In the upper right, a small section of western Africa can bee seen.

Photo of the Earth taken from space in 1968 showing the Western Hemisphere.
Astronaut photograph AS08-16-2593 was acquired on December 22, 1968, by the Apollo 8 crew with a 77 mm camera.

A couple days later, astronauts captured a black and while picture of Earth as Apollo 8 orbited the Moon. The surface of the Moon can be seen in the foreground.

“The vast loneliness up here of the Moon is awe inspiring, and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth. The Earth from here is a grand oasis to the big vastness of space.”

— Apollo 8 astronaut Jim Lovell
A black and white photograph of the Earth with the Moon in the foreground captured by an astronaut onboard Apollo 8, December 24, 1968.
A black and white photograph of the Earth with the Moon in the foreground captured by an astronaut onboard Apollo 8, December 24, 1968. AS08-13-2329

Blue Marble – the Most Distributed Photo of Earth – 1972

One of the most iconic views of the Earth from space is the famous “Blue Marble” photograph.  Captured on December 7, 1972 by the crew onboard the Apollo 17 spacecraft from 29,000 kilometers (18,000 miles) away, it remains one of the most reproduced photographs in history.  The image is particularly captivating as it was taken with the illumination of the sun behind the Earth.

The original photograph shows the Earth with the South Pole at the top of the image. The photograph captured a view of Africa, Antarctica, and the Arabian Peninsula. The 1972 Tamil Nadu cyclone, which has brought flooding and high winds to India on December 5, can be seen in the bottom left of the image.

The original look of AS17-148-22727, the photograph that would come to be known as the Blue Marble.
The original look of AS17-148-22727, the photograph that would come to be known as the Blue Marble.

The image that is commonly circulated has been cropped with the Earth at the center. The image was also rotated to align with people’s understanding of the position of the Earth with north towards the top.

Photograph of the Earth captured by astronauts onboard Apollo 17 as they traveled to the moon on Dec. 7, 1972.  Image: NASA
Photograph of the Earth captured by astronauts onboard Apollo 17 as they traveled to the moon on Dec. 7, 1972. Image: NASA

Earth Moon Composite – 1992

In 1992 Galileo spacecraft captured separate images of the Earth and its moon which were combined for this composite image. A partial image of the Earth with a view of the Pacific Ocean centered about latitude 20 degrees south. To the west, the coast of South America can be seen along with storm patterns over the southeast Pacific ocean.

The background image was taken of the Moon and shows the Tycho impact basin.

During its flight, NASA’s Galileo spacecraft returned images of the Earth and Moon. Separate images of the Earth and Moon were combined to generate this view. PIA00342: The Earth & Moon. NASA/JPL/USGS.
During its flight, NASA’s Galileo spacecraft returned images of the Earth and Moon. Separate images of the Earth and Moon were combined to generate this view. PIA00342: The Earth & Moon. NASA/JPL/USGS.

First View of Earth from Another Planet – 2003

This image of the Earth and the Moon was the first photograph taken of Earth from another planet. The image was captured from Mars by the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) on May 8, 2003.

This is the first image of Earth ever taken from another planet that actually shows our home as a planetary disk. Because Earth and the Moon are closer to the Sun than Mars, they exhibit phases.  Image: NASA, May 8, 2003.
This is the first image of Earth ever taken from another planet that actually shows our home as a planetary disk. Because Earth and the Moon are closer to the Sun than Mars, they exhibit phases. Image: NASA, May 8, 2003.

View from Saturn – 2013

The rings of Saturn can been seen in this view of Earth captured by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013. The image was captured 1.45 billion kilometers (898 million miles) away from Earth. This picture of Earth was only the third-ever image of Earth from the outer solar system.

view of Earth captured by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013.
view of Earth captured by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013.

Earth as Seen by NASA’s Mars Rover – 2014

NASA’s Curiosity rover aimed its Mast Camera towards the horizon to capture this image of Earth. Earth is barely visible as a small dot of light seen in the top-center-left of this photo taken on January 31, 2014.

Earth in the sky as seen from Mars by NASA's Mars Rover, January 31, 2014.  Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU
Earth in the sky as seen from Mars by NASA’s Mars Rover, January 31, 2014. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU

Moon Transiting the Earth – 2015

A NASA camera aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) captured this view of the Moon transiting the Earth on July 16, 2015. The satellite orbits orbits about 1.6 million kilometers (1 million miles) from Earth. Hurricane Dolores can be seen swirling in this image.

View of the Moon transiting the Earth on July 16, 2015.
View of the Moon transiting the Earth on July 16, 2015. Image: NASA.

View of Earth From the International Space Station

Images of Earth are continuously being captured by astronauts onboard the International Space Station.

For more imagery from the International Space Station watch this video: Views over the Earth

Taken by NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, this picture shows Earth's limb, or horizon, from the International Space Station as it orbits above the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Chile. Photo: NASA
Taken by NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, this picture shows Earth’s limb, or horizon, from the International Space Station as it orbits above the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Chile. Photo: NASA, iss064e006316

Further Resources

Carlowicz, M. (2015, April 22). Global views of our planet, then and now. NASA Earth Observatory. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/85736/global-views-of-our-planet-then-and-now

Carlowicz, M. (2018, December 24). All of you on the good earth. NASA Earth Observatory. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/144427/all-of-you-on-the-good-earth

Earth and moon as seen from Mars. (2008, March 3). NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) – Robotic Space Exploration. https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/images/earth-and-moon-as-seen-from-mars

Gutro, R., & Carlowicz, M. (2015, August 6). The dark side and the bright side. NASA Earth Observatory. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/86353/the-dark-side-and-the-bright-side

NASA Mars Rover curiosity sees ‘Evening star’ earth. (2014, February 6). NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) – Robotic Space Exploration. https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/nasa-mars-rover-curiosity-sees-evening-star-earth

Riebeek, H. (2008, November 27). Earth viewed by Apollo 8. NASA Earth Observatory. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/36019/earth-viewed-by-apollo-8

Rieebeek, H. (2015, April 22). Global views of our planet, then and now. NASA Earth Observatory. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/85736/global-views-of-our-planet-then-and-now

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