From the Moon to the Earth

By Phil Plait | September 16, 2010 10:15 am

Breathtaking. Simply, stunningly, breathtaking.


That’s the Earth as seen by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which just finished its first year orbiting the Moon. It sometimes points its cameras back home to take calibration images, and when it does, well. Wow.

This spectacular image shows the fully-sunlit western hemisphere of the Earth, with North and South America clearly visible. Apparently August 9 2010 was a nice day for this half of the planet, with minimal cloud cover. I wonder if anyone on that half of the world was looking up in the sky at that moment, maybe just checking the weather… the Moon was almost new and too close to the Sun to see, but it’s nice to think that at that moment, our robotic explorer was looking back at us.

[… and check out the full resolution zoomable/browsable version. Holy wow!]

Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Pretty pictures, Top Post
MORE ABOUT: Earth, LRO, Moon

Comments (56)

  1. stef

    Oh, wow… What i wouldn’t give to be up there, staring down at the earth… sigh!

  2. Jason

    It’s a fake! there are no stars! *grin*

    Alright… just kidding
    That is a seriously incredible photograph.
    Was it a single image or a mosiac?

  3. @Jason, that is hilarious!

    Yes, what a breathtaking image indeed!

  4. PopsicleMud

    I wonder if I can see my…
    Nope. Seattle’s covered by clouds. Big surprise.

  5. Unikraken

    That is one sexy picture.

  6. Donna

    *speechless**clicks to make it desktop background*

  7. Now let’s see, according to the plans, the hyperspace bypass should go right about….there!

  8. Richard

    Such a beautiful picture. I do feel a spoilt brat for saying it, but I wish it was in color.

  9. Brian Schlosser

    “That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, 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 […] The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.”

    – C.S.

  10. Jenny

    I would guess its a single image as from the Moon the Earth looks very tiny. It’s 30 Earth-diameters away. You wouldn’t see a view this stunning with your eyes from so far away.

  11. Brian Reed

    Here’s a Guy Who Doesn’t Know Much About Orbiters question: Why are all the photos from the LRO black & white? I know the moon is a great big field of gray, so maybe color isn’t all that valuable, but that seems too obvious.

  12. Nemesis

    See the tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico? And I guess you really can see the Amazon River from space. Awesome picture!

  13. @Jason NICE ONE! That made me laugh out loud.

  14. Brent

    I’m 40 and the first “blue marble” photograph from Apollo 17 has been around as long as I can remember—1972—like something that was always part of our culture.

    It’s worth reminding anyone my age or younger that these images, let alone the ability to just look them up in stunning resolution on a whim, are a new and important product of our civilization, not something that was just given to us.

  15. Jason

    @5 Kunigget Don’t Panic. And yes I do have my towel at All times.

  16. Guy Incognito

    If you need some nice spacey music to accompany that pic, here’s some from my favorite soundtrack to a space movie (it does get a little bit sinister after the first couple of minutes):

    Ryuichi Sakamoto – The Wings of Honneamise

  17. Ken

    The credit should read “NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University”. Phil, you really should stop by the LROC SOC sometime.

  18. Ken- D’oh! Sorry about that! I usually CnP the credit but this time typed it in and blew it. It’s corrected now.

  19. Onshay

    Also seen on the most recent installment of The Big Picture. Check it out!

  20. Peter

    Wow a great pic. I can appreciate the technical brilliance and engineering wonder that this picture encompasses.

    but…. desktop? meh, I got google earth and its in colour

  21. NASA should be given the Nobel peace prize. I’m dead serious. Not for this image alone, of course, but for their contribution to putting this world into perspective. And for their contribution to the creation of computers, the internet, the moon landing, the exploration of space.. I could go on but we all know it. I wonder if they’ve ever been considered or suggested?

  22. Jeff

    yes, to the chorus of applauses for this image, it really is great

  23. Scathez

    When you say “its first year orbiting the moon”, do you mean the LRO just finished its first revolution around the moon, thus ITS first year? Because a year for the orbiter is one orbit around the moon. Or, do you mean the earth has revolved around The Sun once since the LRO has started revolving around The Moon? I am confused

  24. Rony

    Take *that*, flat earthers!

  25. Fake! Everyone knows the Earth is just a pale blue dot.

  26. AAEBoiler

    @Scathez – he means that LRO has been orbiting the Moon for 1 year (365 days, 8760 hours, etc.). With LRO’s orbit period of around 2 hours that means that LRO has completed around 4380 orbits of the Moon.

  27. tommy

    When were these black and white photos taken, 1834? lol. jk

  28. Hey, everyone! I can see your house from here!

  29. gilby

    I’m just shocked that you can see Jimmy Carter from space, but there he is, plain as day, just west of South America.

  30. Rand All

    This sort of thing honestly makes me all misty-eyed. And I’m not ashamed to admit it!

  31. A painter couldn’t have done a better job. Gorgeous.

    Thanks for posting.

  32. Ross

    Here’s something I think about whenever I see photos like this: the entire biosphere, from the deepest ocean trench to the upper limits of our atmosphere, is roughly 166,000 feet or a little over 31 miles thick. The width of the Baja penninsula at it’s tip is about that distance. We live in an extremely thin skin on the surface of a big rock.

  33. Skippy

    Search Blue Marble for a colour image taken from the old Apollo crews mentioned above. It’s been my background for as long as I can remember. One earth, cherish it and live our lives to the max!

  34. Nekura

    Very cool. It would be neat for them to do this again during a solar eclipse.

  35. For anyone who hasn’t seen the ‘Pale Blue Dot’ video narrated by Carl Sagan (quoted by 9. Brian Schlosser above), here it is:!
    (There are other versions, but this one is my favorite)

  36. JoeSmithCA

    Well that proves it, the earth is a fake. We’re all living on a massive air brushed picture NASA created on the moon during the fake moon landings! Phil isn’t real either, he’s a robot created by NASA to make everyone believe the earth and the moon landings are real.

  37. Richard

    Cloudy over Michigan. How typical! :-(

  38. Jeremy

    What? We can’t do color in space?

  39. Jeremy Wagner

    What We can’t do color in space ….I can see the stars in color just fine from here

  40. Wayne on the plains

    To everyone complaining about the lack of color:
    I don’t know if you realize it, but pretty much all scientific cameras are greyscale, they combine multiple images using different filters to create color images. Regular digital cameras work the same way, except that various pixels are permanently filtered so that the combining happens automatically.

  41. Stuff the blue, the green, even the brown, the most notable color for the Earth is white.

  42. Wayne, #40

    The thing people are most concerned about is the color out of space. (You just knew somebody was going to do a Lovecraft reference, now didn’t you? :) )

  43. Messier Tidy Upper

    @35. Lugosi Says:

    For anyone who hasn’t seen the ‘Pale Blue Dot’ video narrated by Carl Sagan (quoted by 9. Brian Schlosser above), here it is: … (There are other versions, but this one is my favorite)

    You beat me to it – I was going to post that too. Magnificent video there, one of my all-time faves. Carl Sagan was so spot on. :-)

    The rest of that book (& all his others) are well worth reading in full.

    @21. BicycleRepairMan Says:

    NASA should be given the Nobel peace prize. I’m dead serious. Not for this image alone, of course, but for their contribution to putting this world into perspective. And for their contribution to the creation of computers, the internet, the moon landing, the exploration of space.. I could go on but we all know it. I wonder if they’ve ever been considered or suggested?

    Seconded by me. I couldn’t agree more. :-)

    Of the many, *many*, ways that NASA has improved our lives and made the world better, pictures like this one and the sense of perspective they provide us rate right near the top.

    Thanks to the LRO team(s) & the BA for bringing us this. :-)

    That said I have to say I prefer the historic Apollo 8 “Full earth” & “Earthrise” ones plus some of the other colour ones taken by other spaceprobes. Not that there’s anything wrong with this one of course, just there are other slightly better ones.

    – In My Humble Opinion Naturally.

  44. Matt

    I like how the cloud seems to be buffered up against the whole of the West coast

  45. Stephanie

    Being a teacher, I’m so used to seeing maps with lines breaking up all the states and countries. That’s come to be my mental “reference image” of what North America, especially, looks like. It’s always a little bit of a jolt to see these images from space and remember that the lines are totally arbitrary.

  46. Zippy the Pinhead

    The Western Hemisphere! The greatest hemisphere on the face of the earth!

  47. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Zippy the Pinhead : Don’t you mean the Southern hemisphere which, of course, has Australia in it there, ma-aate? 😉

    @41. Alan Kellogg Says:

    Stuff the blue, the green, even the brown, the most notable color for the Earth is white.

    I’m not so sure of that! My word association of “white planet” = Venus not Earth.

    OTOH, when I think “blue planet” I think Neptune & when I think “grey planet” it is Mercury that comes to mind. (Although, oddly enough, I kinda think silver metallic there too!) 😉

    Red planet, of course, means Mars, yellow = Saturn, brown = Jupiter and green Ouranos.

    Earth? You need more than just one colour for that! 😉

    If planets had flavours :

    Saturn would be butterscotch,
    Ouranos – mint,
    Neptune – blueberry,
    Jupiter – sweet & sour
    Venus – chilli
    Mercury – flambe alaska
    Mars – chocolate (guess what bar!)
    Pluto – beer
    Eris – pear
    Ceres – wheat
    Makemake – pickle
    Haumea – donut

    Our Moon would be pie flavour & as for Earth’s taste … hhmmm … mushroomy I think! 😉

  48. Larry

    Now if only I could move my mouse over the picture and have the Google Earth zoom tool appear and let me zoom in real close. Its clear over the California bay area. Maybe I could see my house.

  49. FWIW, I thought that shot was missing some color so I colorized it.

    So… for those who want “color” – full resolution view here (8 MB!)

    I always wanted to colorize one of these B/W Earth shots but never was satisfied with how they turned out. Actually pretty pleased with this one, though I’m not sure I could reproduce the result again.

  50. Byron Graham

    “There’s a beautiful Earth out tonight.” – Bugs Bunny in Haredevil Hare (1948).

  51. David Short

    Wow!! Thanks for posting. I was at my uncle’s house by one of those lakes in N Minn. Reinforces how good are the Moon photos.

  52. Charlie in Dayton

    I have GOT to save this…Aug 9 was the 58th candle on the cake. If you look closely, even in daylight, you can probably see the glow…

  53. ThirtyFiveUp

    49 Gordan, good job. Thanks.

  54. ThirtyFiveUp

    Gordan, I put a link for your art at Chad Orzel’s Uncertain Principles.

  55. Loree Thomas

    Is that Winston Churchill’s face of the west coast of South America?

    Now that I’ve said it, you’ll all see it. 😛

  56. scanner

    I looked at this and said to myself, “hmmm, that’s quite a cyclonic disturbance over Greenland” then this morning (merry holiday) I read this article from Art Techica:
    And so I wonder if this cyclonic effect has been around since August or if it formed, departed and reformed. Kinda like the Red Spot :)


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar