On December 7, 1972, astronauts on the Apollo 17 mission took a photo of Earth, illuminated by the sun and obscured by whorls of weather. It was the first complete photo ever taken of this rock suspending us in the universe and is thought to be one of the most reproduced pictures in history.
The photo was called the Blue Marble, given that Earth looked ready to win first place in an intergalactic rolley hole tournament.
In the decades since, scientists have produced new photos of Earth, but they have been composites. It is exceedingly difficult for the sunlight to sit still long enough to make sure the entire planet is illuminated.
On Monday, however, NASA released a new complete photo of Earth, taken by the Deep Space Climate Observatory’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) from one million miles away. We’re going to get many more similarly spectacular images soon; the satellite is going to start sending back new images of Earth every single day this fall so scientists can begin studying the minute changes altering Earth — ozone and aerosol levels, cloud height — and perhaps note how human innovation can have deleterious effects noticeable from millions of miles away.
President Obama was pretty excited by the new image.
The White House even had Neil deGrasse Tyson pen some prose for the occasion.
Earth. Not mounted on a stand, with color-coded state and national boundaries, as schoolroom globes are prone to display. Instead, we see our world as only a cosmic perspective can provide: Blue Oceans — Dry Land — White Clouds — Polar Ice. A Sun-lit planet, teeming with life, framed in darkness.
Tyson added that the pictures would provide “just the kind of data our civilization needs to make informed cultural, political, and scientific decisions that affect our future.”