The Big Blue Ball: Pictures of Planet Earth From Space
It’s funny to think about the fact that most humans who ever lived never got the chance to see what our planet looked like as a whole.
They never saw the blue-green ball spinning through the black of space.
The first ever photograph of the Earth from space was taken in 1946, but the quality of image was — by today’s standards — very poor.
It was dark and grainy, and it showed only a small portion of our planet.
The following year, 1947, saw the creation of the first photo in which we could plainly and clearly see the curvature of Earth’s surface.
This was taken by the American scientist John Mengel, who worked for NASA, and he used German V-2 rockets that had been captured in the Second World War.
A camera was placed in the nose of the missile.
It then shot up into the sky and ultimately left our atmosphere, enabling it to take its incredible image.
It was many years later, in 1972, that the Apollo 17 mission took a famous photograph known as Blue Marble.
It was given this name because it showed how much the Earth’s oceans dominate our planet.
Since then, NASA has produced more images — using modern satellites equipped with high-resolution cameras — that have also been released under the name Blue Marble.
These are available to browse here.
In fact, Britannica’s online encyclopedia says that the Earth’s oceans cover over 70 percent of its surface.
So it’s easy to see why our planet looks so blue when it’s seen from a great distance.
It’s also worth remembering that the first animals emerged and evolved to live underwater in the oceans.
So the blueness of our planet is integral to life on Earth.
The astrophysicist Carl Sagan famously summed up his thoughts on seeing our planet from an outsider’s perspective in his book Pale Blue Dot.
I'll leave you with his inspiring words:
Look again at that dot. 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.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
This is an eloquent explanation of just why these images are so important to us, and why humans will never stop seeking to expand our horizons.
The more we understand about other worlds, the better we can appreciate our own.