What Mother Earth looks like from space in 2012, courtesy of NASA satellite Suomi NPP.

Big Blue Marble: Mother Earth in High Def


Up close she is our dear, beloved, Mother Earth. From space our home planet resembles a shimmering blue glass sphere.

This has now been shown in high-definition by recent satellite photos that revisit the cosmic vision first recorded by the crew of Apollo 17 as they photographed Earth during their flight to the moon. That 1972 photo got Mother Earth dubbed the Blue Marble and, as NASA noted in this paper talking about the significance of the first space shots of Earth, helped spark the environmental movement by highlighting our planet's fragility.

Now the epithet has been reapplied, thanks to the work of NASA oceanographer Norman Kuring, who explained to The Los Angeles Times how it was done. The image, he said, is not really a photograph but a compilation of data collected by something called the Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), a gadget aboard NASA's Suomi NPP satellite, which is observing Earth from 512 miles up. Kuring's image came from a translation of the data collected by the telescope on January 4, 2012, rather than from a series of snapshots. The result: Earth as you've never seen her before.

For comparison, below is the Apollo 17 original, with the caption that appeared on it way back when. Blue Marble 1972: "View of the Earth as seen by the Apollo 17 crew traveling toward the moon. This translunar 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. Note the heavy cloud cover in the Southern Hemisphere. Almost the entire coastline of Africa is clearly visible. The Arabian Peninsula can be seen at the northeastern edge of Africa. The large island off the coast of Africa is Madagascar. The Asian mainland is on the horizon toward the northeast."

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page