The year before the U.S. sent a manned spacecraft to the moon in 1969, a color photograph of Earth was taken by astronaut William Anders during the Apollo 8 mission. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision, but Anders was so taken aback by Earth’s beauty that he quickly asked fellow astronaut Jim Lovell for “color film” so he could take an “unscheduled” photograph. That unscheduled photograph turned out to be one of the most profound images humankind has ever had of its home planet, and went on to inspire new generations of scientists, explorers, and environmentalists. NASA dubbed the iconic photo “Earthrise.”
“Earthrise” photo taken in 1968.
Cut to 2015. Humanity is now a species inundated with technology—with screens—and it’s easier than ever to keep our eyes panned down, looking at our phones, tablets, computers, and televisions. Luckily, due to events like the discovery of liquid water on Mars and the establishment of reusable LEO (Low Earth Orbit) rockets by SpaceX, as well as some great Martian entertainment by Ridley Scott, space is still very much on the minds of the people. But remembering our place in the universe, on what Carl Sagan lovingly referred to as a “pale blue dot,” can still be a challenge.
With NASA’s latest photo taken by its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (or LRO) however, we all get another reminder of just how beautiful, small, and fragile, our planet really is.
Image of Earth taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2015.
The 2015 photo is actually a composite of multiple photographs taken by the LRO (which orbits the Moon), because it is equipped with two cameras; one that can take photos in color, and one that can take photos in high resolution. But using some “special processing,” the folks at NASA were able to combine the images into the single glorious shot seen above. And although this image is reminiscent of the 1968 photo, it’s likely not to be named “Earthrise” not only because that name’s already taken, but also because, as Neil deGrasse Tyson loves to point out, Earth doesn’t actually rise or fall from the Moon’s point of view, as it is tidally locked with Earth, and thusly does not spin.
For a historical side note, you can get a better sense of the excitement Anders experienced during the moments he snapped “Earthrise” by checking out the audio clip below, which was recorded live as he was taking the photo.
What do you think about the LRO’s image of Earth? Does it remind you of just how lucky we are to have such a beautiful planet, or are you already thinking about what your house on Mars is going to look like? Let us know in the comments section below!
Feature Image: NASA
Images in Body: NASA
Audio clip: NASA