Since we first ventured into space, there have been a number of images returned to us with show both the beauty and the fragility of the place we call home – the Earth, with perhaps two of the most iconic being Earthrise and The Blue Marble.
Earthrise was taken by William Anders aboard Apollo 8 on December 24th, 1968 as he, mission Commander Frank Borman and colleague Jim Lovell became the first men to travel around the Moon and back to Earth. While there has been some dispute over the years as to who took the image, Borman and Lovell both having grabbed the camera on which the original was taken to capture shots of their own, it remains perhaps one of the most famous images of modern history.
In 1972 came The Blue Marble, an image captured from Apollo 17 on December 17th, 1972 from a distance of 45,000 kilometres (28,000 miles). While the term has been subsequently applied by NASA to a wide range of images of Earth returned from orbiting satellites, the original Apollo 17 photograph remains the most famous.
On December 6th, 2012, NASA released three composite high-definition pictures of images captured by the Suomi NPP meteorological satellite using its VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) instrument. Part of a series of images captured by the satellite which reveal the Earth at night in stunning detail, the three images are “whole Earth” pictures showing views from over Africa, the Americas and Australia and Asia.
All three are amazing views of the planet, but I have to confess that of them all, it is the picture showing Africa and Europe which is for me the most stunning. Not because I’m from the UK, which can just be seen in the image, but because the picture says so much about our place on Earth. Just look at the lights of our cities spread across Europe, and the seemingly tiny sprinkling of lights around Africa.
All of these images deserve to become as iconic as Earthrise, The Blue Marble and other famous images such as 1990’s Pale Blue Dot, taken from a distance of 6 billion kilometres (3.7 billion miles) by the Voyager 1 spacecraft revealing the Earth as a tiny pinpoint of reflected sunlight hanging in space.
Together, all of these images remind us that in all the vastness of space, we only have one place to call home. It belongs to us all, and we’re all responsible for it. Let’s make sure we take care of it.
All images reproduced courtesy of NASA