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Earth Pictures: Iconic Images of Earth from Space

blue marble of earth's western hemisphere
A "Blue Marble" image of the Earth taken from the VIIRS instrument aboard NASA's most recently launched Earth-observing satellite, Suomi NPP. This composite image uses a number of swaths of the Earth's surface taken on Jan. 4, 2012.
Credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring

Since the first photos of our planet were taken from space, an amazing collection of Earth pictures has accumulated. Some are incredible because of the effort that went into making them; others offer stunning new perspectives on our world; many NASA photos were simply marvelous art layered on fantastic science and fueled by remarkable technology. From full-globe Blue Marble images stitched together from satellite imagery to the humbling Pale Blue Dot Earth picture made from deep space, our world has been revealed in all its cosmic splendor.

Here are several historic first pictures of Earth from the moon and from deep space, as well as iconic views of our world from a truly far-out perspective.

Blue Marble: NASA has produced several Blue Marble images. The original, taken by the crew of Apollo 17, shows the Eastern Hemisphere and is thought to be one of the most famous and widely distributed images of Earth ever. Above-left, one of the most recent Blue Marble images was created by stitching together satellite imagery and reveals the Western Hemisphere in all its glory. The first pictures from space were not nearly as routine as the Blue Marbles are now.

Early Rocket Photos of Earth from Space: Long before we went to the moon, the first pictures of Earth from afar were beamed from the edge of space by rockets in the 1940s. On March 7, 1947, a rocket sent back these first pictures of Earth taken from higher than 100 miles above the surface — well into space.

earth from a V2 space rocket
Scientists and soldiers in New Mexico got the first look at these images, made by captured German V-2 rockets that were reconfigured to carry a camera (in place of the warhead) into space.
Credit: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

First Photo of Earth from a Weather Satellite: Rockets gave way to orbiting satellites, and early satellite photos gave scientists their first useful looks at cloud systems from above, providing information on large storms that was of great value to meteorologists.

earth from satellite tiros-1
This first picture of Earth from a weather satellite was taken by the TIROS-1 satellite on April 1, 1960. The photo also made television history.
Credit: NASA

First Photo of Earth from the Deep Space: Early satellite images only show parts of the planet. Not until NASA’s Lunar Orbiter 1 looked back over its shoulder and snapped the first picture of Earth from deep space did we gain the perspective of our world as an object in the cosmos. Earth is revealed as a crescent — sunlight only partly from the perspective of the spacecraft.

earth from deep space
The first picture of Earth from deep space was taken by Lunar Orbiter 1 on Aug. 23, 1966. Earth is seen rising above the moon. The robotic orbiter was part of a NASA effort to map the lunar surface before sending astronauts. Unlike today’s digital photography, images were made on film, which was developed automatically onboard, much like how a Polaroid camera works, before being scanned, digitized and sent to Earth via radio signals.
Credit: NASA

First Picture of Earth and Moon in Single Frame: It was incredible to see Earth from deep space for the first time. It was yet another amazing experience to see both our world and its moon suspended in the black void together for the first time. That feat was accomplished by Voyager 1 on its way to the outer planets.

earth and moon in single frame
This NASA picture of the Earth and the moon in a single frame, the first of its kind ever taken by a spacecraft, was recorded Sept. 18, 1977, by Voyager 1 when it was 7.25 million miles (11.66 million kilometers) from Earth. The moon (top) is beyond the Earth as viewed by the space probe. Because the Earth much brighter than the moon, the moon was artificially brightened by a factor of three by computer enhancement so that both bodies would show clearly in the image.
Credit: NASA

Earthrise: Imagine coming around the moon in a spaceship, looking out the window, and being the first humans to see your own planet rise. This iconic image of the Earth rising, popularly called the “Earthrise” picture, is the first of its kind taken by an astronaut from lunar orbit.

earthrise from the moon
This view of the rising Earth greeted the Apollo 8 astronauts as they came from behind the moon after the lunar orbit insertion burn. The photo is displayed here in its original orientation, though it is more commonly viewed with the lunar surface at the bottom of the photo. Earth is about five degrees left of the horizon in the photo. The unnamed surface features on the left are near the eastern limb of the moon as viewed from Earth. The lunar horizon is approximately 780 kilometers from the spacecraft. The height of the photographed area at the lunar horizon is about 175 kilometers.
Credit: NASA

Pale Blue Dot: Few images from space are as iconic as the Pale Blue Dot, taken by Voyager 1. Carl Sagan said of the image: "...a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish this pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

pale blue dot
The Pale Blue Dot image is a part of the first portrait ever made of our solar system from afar, taken by Voyager 1. Voyager acquired 60 frames for a mosaic of the solar system from more than 4 billion miles from Earth and about 32 degrees above the ecliptic — the plane in which most of the planets orbit. Earth is just below and right of center, smack in the middle of one of the scattered light rays resulting from taking the image so close to the sun.
Credit: NASA

First Picture of Earth from Mars: Mars once held the collective human imagination like no other world, with visions of canals and little green men. So it was something special the first time we could take a photo of our world from the surface of the Red Planet. Earth is, once again, a mere dot seen from so far away.

earth from mars
This is the first image of Earth made from the surface another planet. It was taken by the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit on March 8, 2004, an hour before sunrise, with the surface of Mars in the foreground. The contrast was doubled to make Earth easier to see.
Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Texas A&M

Moon Shadow: Not every great photo of Earth is old, nor are they all black and white. And many, like this next one, are just downright surprising. When we experience a solar eclipse, the moon blocks out the sun. But from space, looking down on our planet, the event takes on an entirely different perspective. We see a strange blemish on our world — the shadow of the moon falling on the planet’s surface. This picture reveals why everyone on Earth is not able to see any given total solar eclipse — the shadow covers just part of the planet, and you have to be near the center of the shadow to experience the eclipse.

solar eclipse shadow on earth
During a solar eclipse, the shadow of the moon moves across Earth’s surface at nearly 2,000 kilometers per hour as the eclipse unfolds. This picture of the Aug. 11, 1999, solar eclipse was one of the last ever taken from the Russian Mir space station.
Credit: Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales via NASA

Moonrise from Earth Orbit: The horizon is tilted and seems far away. The moon appears to float on Earth’s atmosphere. It’s one of many incredible views that can come only from space, yet by name it’s totally familiar: a moonrise.

moonrise from orbit
A quarter moon rises above Earth's horizon and above the airglow of our atmosphere. The image was made with a digital still camera on the final mission of the Space Shuttle Columbia. Columbia's crew was killed on Feb. 1, 2003, when the shuttle broke up on re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.
Credit: NASA

Aurora from the International Space Station: Most people on Earth have never seen the aurora. Only a handful have been lucky enough to see it from space.

aurora from space
This view of the aurora, or Northern Lights, was taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station in early 2012. It shows brilliant aurora displays dancing above Earth.
Credit: NASA

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