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25 Images Of Earth That Put The Presidential Election Into Humbling Focus

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Dave Mosher

Guest Author

Apollo 11 astronauts took this photo of Earth on July 20, 1969.NASA/Flickr

November 9 is not only the day we begin to ponder the implications of a Trump presidency. It's also the birthday of the belated scientist and luminary Carl Sagan.

And nothing makes more clear the fact that we must come together after 18 months of divisive campaigning than Sagan's "pale blue dot" view of Earth.

Photos of our Earth from hundreds, thousands, millions, or even billions of miles away not only help scientists understand how a habitable planet looks from afar, aiding the search to find more cozy worlds, but also remind us of a humbling, chilling, and inescapable truth: We live on a tiny, fragile rock that is hopelessly lost in the cosmic void.

Take a moment to ponder 25 of the most arresting images of Earth and the moon from space that humankind has ever captured.

We hope you find them as perspective-lending as we do.

A few rare satellites launched by humanity enjoy a full view of Earth from thousands or even a million miles away.

Taken by: Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) spacecraft

Date: April 9, 2015

NASA and NOAA created this composite image using photos taken by Suomi NPP, a weather satellite that orbits Earth 14 times a day. You can see the Joalane tropical cyclone in the Indian Ocean (top right).

Source: NASA

Their unending gaze helps us monitor the health of our world while catching rare alignments of the sun, moon, and Earth.

Taken by: Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR)

Date: March 9, 2016

Orbiting from a million miles away, NASA's DSCOVR satellite always views this sunlit half of our planet. This allowed it to take 13 images of the moon's shadow as it raced across Earth during the total solar eclipse of 2016. Together they make up one of the most complete views ever of the event.

Source: NASA

But it's when we venture deeper into space that Earth comes into spellbinding focus.

Taken by: Rosetta

Date: November 12, 2009

To rendezvous with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2007 — which it will crash into on September 30, 2016 — the Rosetta spacecraft needed a speed boost with the help of Earth's gravity. This photo it took of Earth shows the South Pole and Antarctica illuminated by the sun.  

Source: ESA

Our planet appears as a brilliant blue marble wrapped in a thin, nearly invisible veil of gas.

Taken by: Apollo 17's crew

Date: December 7, 1972

The crew of the last crewed lunar mission, Apollo 17, took this "blue marble" photo of Earth — one of the most-reproduced images in history (though no one is certain which astronaut took it) — from 28,000 miles away on their trip to the moon. Africa is visible at the top left of the image, and Antarctica on the bottom.

Source: NASA

And it drifts utterly alone in the blackness of space.

Taken by: Apollo 11's crew

Date: July 20, 1969

A view of Africa taken from 98,000 miles away from Earth, while astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin were on their way to the moon.


Source: NASA/Flickr; NASA

Well, almost alone.

Taken by: DSCOVR

Date: July 16, 2015

About twice per year, the moon passes between DSCOVR and its prime target — and then we get a rare look at our satellite's far side. This series of images was taken between 3:50 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. EDT. (The yellowish line to the right of the moon is a camera artifact.) 

Source: NASA

The moon — a cold, airless ball of rock 50 times smaller than Earth — is our largest and closest celestial friend.

Taken by: William Anders of Apollo 8's crew

Date: December 24, 1968

NASA's famous "Earthrise" image was taken as Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders swung around the moon. During a broadcast with Earth, Lovell said: "The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth."

Source: NASA

Its kinship with us is uncanny: The moon formed after a Mars-size planet smacked into a proto-Earth some 4.5 billion years ago.

Taken by: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)

Date: October 12, 2015

Launched by NASA in 2009, LRO normally stares down at the cratered surface of the moon — but took a moment to snap this modern-day "Earthrise" composite photo.

Sources: NASA, Business Insider

We know this only because, since the 1950s, nations all around the world have launched people and robots there.

Taken by: Lunar Orbiter 1

Date: August 23, 1966

Lunar Orbiter 1 took this photo while scouting for places astronauts might land on the moon. Because 1960s technology couldn't access the full depth of image data that NASA had recorded on analog tapes, however, the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project recently recovered this version of the famous image. The full-size version is large enough to print as a billboard.

We know this only because, since the 1950s, nations all around the world have launched people and robots there.
In 2008, the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) released this high-resolution version of a Lunar Orbiter 1 photo of Earth from the moon, which was taken on Aug. 23, 1966.NASA/LOIRP



Our lunar exploration is a mixed pursuit of technological conquest...

Taken by: Michael Collins of Apollo 11's crew

Date: July 21, 1969

The "Eagle" lunar module of Apollo 11 as it returns from the surface of the moon.

Source: NASA

A whetting of insatiable human curiosity...

Taken by: Chang'e 5-T1

Date: October 29, 2014

A rare view of the far side of the moon, taken by the China National Space Administration's lunar probe. China has grown increasingly capable of exploring the solar system alongside NASA, ESA, Russia, India, and other space-faring nations. Its next moon mission: to return a lunar soil sample in 2017; if it succeeds, it will be the first collected since the last Apollo missions in the 1970s.

Sources: NASA APOD, The Planetary Society

And seeking out the ultimate adventure.

Taken by: Apollo 10's crew

Date: May 1969

The astronauts Thomas Stafford, John Young, and Eugene Cernan took this video during Apollo 10, the second crewed mission to the moon — what was essentially a dry run for Apollo 11 (minus the landing). Because the same side of the moon always faces our planet, such "Earthrise" views only happen when a spacecraft is moving.

Source: NASA

The Earth never seems to be too distant from the moon.

Taken by: Clementine 1

Date: 1994

The Clementine mission was launched on January 25, 1994, as part of a joint NASA-strategic defense initiative. Before spinning wildly out of control on May 7, 1994, it took this composite photo of Earth, as seen across the northern pole of the moon.


But the farther out we send our spacecraft...

Taken by: Mariner 10

Date: November 3, 1973

A combination of two photos (one of Earth and one of the moon) taken by NASA's Mariner 10 spacecraft, which journeyed to Mercury, Venus, and the moon after launching from a repurposed Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.


Source: NASA

The more peculiar our home looks...

Taken by: Galileo

Date: December 16, 1992

On its way to study Jupiter and its moons, NASA's Galileo spacecraft got its second speed boost from Earth's gravity. About a week after that maneuver it took this composite image from 3.9 million miles away. The moon, which is about one-third as bright as Earth, is closer to the viewer in the foreground.

Source: NASA

And the more lonely it seems.

Taken by: Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR)

Date: January 23, 1998

NASA's asteroid-bound NEAR spacecraft took this two-part image of Earth and the moon from about 250,000 miles. Antarctica is visible in the south pole. NEAR eventually reached Asteroid 433 Eros, began orbiting the space rock, and deployed its Shoemaker lander spacecraft in 2001.


Most images don't accurately portray the distance between Earth and the moon.

Taken by: Voyager 1

Date: September 18, 1977

Most photos of Earth and the moon are (artful) cut-and-paste composites, since they are so far away from one another. However, this is the first photo of both worlds ever taken in a single frame, when Voyager 1 was 7.25 million miles away — en route to its "grand tour" of the solar system.

Source: NASA

Only by traveling hundreds of thousands or millions of miles away, then turning around, can we truly appreciate what the 239,000 miles between two worlds actually looks like.

Taken by: Mars Express

Date: July 3, 2003

Nearly 5 million miles from Earth and on its way to the Red Planet, the Mars Express spacecraft pointed back home and snapped this photo. The satellite has orbited Mars and photographed its surface in 3D since December 2003. 

Source: NASA, ESA

It is a vast and empty rift.

Taken by: Mars Odyssey

Date: April 19, 2001

This infrared photo, taken from 2.2 million miles away, reveals the vast distance between Earth and the moon — 239,000 miles, or about 30 diameters of Earth stacked together. The Mars Odyssey spacecraft recorded the image on its way to the Red Planet.


Source: NASA

Even when paired together, the Earth-moon system looks insignificant from deep space.

Taken by: Juno

Date: August 26, 2011

Speed-boosting gravity assists are a popular time for adventurous spacecraft to photograph the Earth and its moon. NASA's Juno spacecraft took this shot (and many others, which were made into a fantastic animation) during its nearly 5-year-long trip to Jupiter, where it is documenting the gas giant in ways scientists had previously only dreamed of.

Source: NASA, Business Insider

From the surface of Mars, it could just be another "moving star" in the night sky that puzzled early astronomers.

Taken by: Spirit Mars Exploration Rover

Date: March 9, 2004

About 2 months after a textbook landing on Mars, the Spirit rover gazed up at the sky to look for Earth — and found it as a tiny dot. NASA says this "is the first image ever taken of Earth from the surface of a planet beyond the Moon." In this shot, Earth is roughly 161 million miles away.

Source: NASA

From Saturn, Earth seems to vanish in the brilliant glow of the gas giant's icy rings.

Taken by: Cassini

Date: September 15, 2006

NASA's nuclear-powered Cassini spacecraft took 165 different photos in the shadow of Saturn to make this backlit mosaic of the gas giant. Almost by accident, Earth is hiding in the image, off to the left. Although it looks like a bright speck in Saturn's rings, the world is actually 928 million miles away.

Source: NASA

Billions of miles from Earth, as Carl Sagan famously quipped, our world is just a "pale blue dot," a small and solitary orb where all of our triumphs and tragedies play out.

This photo of Earth — the "pale blue dot" — is just one frame of a "solar system portrait" that Voyager 1 took at roughly 4 billion miles away from home.

Here's an abridged text of Sagan's speech about the image:

"We succeeded in taking that picture, and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there – on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

Taken by: Voyager 1 

Date: February 14, 1990

"The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. [...]

"To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

Source: NASA

Sagan's message is immutable: There is only one Earth, and so we must do everything in our power to protect it — and mostly from ourselves.

Taken by: SELENE/Kaguya

Date: April 5, 2008

Japan's moon-orbiting Selenological and Engineering Explorer (SELENE) spacecraft, also known as Kaguya, took this video of Earth rising above the moon — sped up 1,000% — on the 40th anniversary of NASA's Apollo 8 "Earthrise" photo.

Sources: NASA APODJAXA; YouTube


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