Tuesday, before the Great Tumblr Meltdown of 12/12/12, I put down a few thoughts on the 40th anniversary of the last photo of Earth ever taken by a human in space, the “Blue Marble”. Read it here if you missed it.
I believe, without a doubt, that that shot, taken with human hands, altered the human perspective in ways that will affect the remainder of our existence. It can not be the last time humans see that with the naked eye.
Thanks to Open Culture, and the folks at the Planetary Collective, we have this supremely interesting film that pays tribute to that photo on its 40th anniversary, and discusses the odd psychology of viewing our planet from space (the “overview effect”). Enjoy.
When we originally went to the Moon, our total focus was on the Moon, we weren’t thinking about looking back at the Earth. But now that we’ve done it, that may well have been the most important reason we went.
By traveling closer to the stars that we have been able to realize that we are born of their dusty remains. And by traveling off of Earth, we have been able to realize that we are all travelers on the same Spaceship Earth.
This photograph is 40 years old.
Let that sink in for a moment.
It’s called “The Blue Marble”, and it was taken by the crew of Apollo 17 as they looked back on their home on their way to the Moon, exactly 40 years and three days ago.
You’ve probably seen this photo a few times. It’s inspired many modern replicates, from this year’s “Blue Marble 2012” to the just-released view of Earth at night, the “Black Marble”. It’s understandably hard to pick a favorite. Look at how wonderful they all are:
For me, it’s not a tough decision. Blue Marble 1972 was the first, and it is the finest in my heart. It may not have the detailed resolution, or the rich color, or the exotic shading that comes from a modern digital composite image drawn from the whole electromagnetic spectrum. But it marks a pivotal moment in mankind’s history.
Apollo 17 wasn’t the first mission to the Moon, of course. It was the last. That’s what makes this photo so special. These pioneers, these explorers, they turned their Hasselblads back toward home and snapped this shot. These interplanetary adventurers (the Moon likely used to be a dwarf planet, so they’ve earned the title) put our existence in perspective with one click.
A human being hasn’t seen this sight with the naked eye since 1972. The International Space Station doesn’t orbit far enough from Earth to see anything but curved edges. Same with the shuttle. Perhaps Curiosity, had its eye been somehow deployed in mid-flight, could have turned back to see where it came from. But alas, no.
I’m happy with the images of Earth that our satellites send back. Not one, but two of them grace my iPhone’s wallpapers (“Aqua” and “Black” marbles, if you’re interested), that phone that has more computing power than the entire spacecraft this photo was taken from. But I want another human being to see our Earth from this vantage point.
When this image came back to Earth, people stopped for a moment, however brief, in the midst of wars Cold and hot, to realize this is our home. Our home. Maybe a military officer somewhere thought twice about dropping bombs that day. Maybe a parent showed it to their kids before bed instead of sitting silently in front of the TV. Maybe someone who was alive when the Wright brothers flew for the first time smiled at how far we’d come.
I don’t want this to be the last time we feel those things. Let’s go take another picture.
That’s a new image from our buds at NASA, showing the Arctic ice cap, a sort of white-capped on our blue home. If you have faith in your internet connection, you can view an 11,000 x 11,000 pixel version here.
NASA’s new Suomi NPP satellite started sending images back to Earth this year, and they are stunning. We were even treated to an updated 2012 version of the iconic Blue Marble shot (which you really must see). But as the detailed images of our planet’s climate and atmosphere roll in, so does the worry that we may be capturing a few views for the last time.
Each summer, Arctic sea ice melts and recedes to a certain degree due to higher temperatures. But over the past few decades, the melting has gotten faster and more severe (the 2011 melt was a record low). Don’t believe me? Check out this video from NASA showing the change in summer ice from the past 32 years.
Climate change models have predicted the complete loss of summer ice in the Arctic by 2070 or so. But as this years melt begins, hot and fast, 2030 is looking like a real possibility for an ice-free Arctic. That means that in as little as 20 years, this photo could be a look into the past instead of the present.
(via Smart News)
The Blue Marble From
Almost 150,000,000 km Above Us NASA Terra’ Satellite
(via Earth View), which you should go play with.
EDIT: An earlier version of this post stated that this picture represented 150,000,000 km above the Earth. That would be the same as the distance from the Earth to the sun, and is silly. I should have noticed that, and it appears that it’s a flaw in the imaging program used to create the image from satellite data. Anyway, it’s still a nice look.