A Spectacular View of Earth Unlike Any Seen Since 1972

By Tom Yulsman | July 20, 2015 9:25 pm

The DISCOVR satellite’s first publicly released photograph of the entire sunlit side of Earth, captured on July 6, 2015. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

You may think you’ve seen many images of Earth just like this one since the Apollo astronauts snapped the very first one more than four decades ago.

But actually, you haven’t.

Maybe you’re thinking, ‘What about those recent Blue Marble images from NASA?’ Sorry, but nope. Those were mostly mosaics of multiple images stitched together.

No single image of the full sunlit face of Earth has been has been shot since the Apollo 17 astronauts captured the iconic Blue Marble photograph in 1972, according to NASA.

The spectacular photograph at the top of this post was made on July 6 by the EPIC camera (Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera) on the DISCVR satellite (Deep Space Climate Observatory). It is EPIC’s first image of Earth’s sunlit face, taken from 1 million miles away after a five-month journey across 1 million miles of space to the L1 Lagrange Point.

That point is four times farther from us than the orbit of the Moon.

According to the awesome folks at NASA’s Earth Observatory, who posted this image today:

This first public image shows the effects of sunlight scattered by air molecules, giving the disk a characteristic bluish tint. The EPIC team is developing data processing techniques that will emphasize land features and remove this atmospheric effect. Once the instrument begins regular data acquisition, new images will be available every day, 12 to 36 hours after they are acquired by EPIC. These images will be posted to a dedicated web page by autumn 2015.

You can be sure that I’ll posting samples here at ImaGeo on a regular basis.

  • galacticcannibal

    Are there any planets square . MOst seem to be round .. Why?

    • MaryAnn Young

      I know absolutely nothing about this but can guess that it’s because they are spinning and therefore rounding off the edges(?) or uneven parts.

      • Mike Richardson

        Actually, it’s gravity. The more massive the body is, the stronger the force pulling things towards the center of mass. Once you get above a certain level of mass, it’s going to force things into the most even shape relative to the center of mass, and that’s always going to be a sphere. So unless you’re from Bizarro Superman’s world, where they’ve apparently figured out a way to break the laws of gravity, you won’t be living on a cube.

        • OWilson

          In geometry, a sphere is the most efficient shape to contain a given mass.

          Regardless of gravity.

          See soap bubbles in a spaceship:)

          • Mike Richardson

            Exactly. Smallest surface area to volume ratio possible. Which explains the why of the shape, while gravity, at least with respect to massive objects, explains the how. Good point, Wilson. :)

          • OWilson

            It’s not a “point”, just current science.

            Nothing to do with me, or my views :)

          • OWilson

            Not really.
            See above.

        • MaryAnn Young

          Thank you for that lesson. Now I’m going to impress my 13 yr old grandson with that knowledge.

          • Mike Richardson

            Thanks. Had some help on this one, but I’m glad it’s something you found useful. :)

          • OWilson

            See how liberal “truth” gets spread?

            But, as usual, only half the truth.

            That’s why your kids are falling behind in science.

            I could just imagine you teaching history, or gasp!, politics.

          • Mike Richardson

            Yup. I’m the one always bringing politics into every situation. Well, guess it serves me right for trying to be courteous. Oh well, I tried. Evening, Wilson. :)

          • OWilson

            The truth is always courteous. It only appears insulting to the ignorant :)

            I assume you had no idea that the sun, the planets, including the earth are not spheres, but spheroids.

            “ALWAYS” going to be a sphere?

            But hey, I’m sure it’s close enough for a low info voter. :)

            It’s just that the other poster is passing it along to children. For that child, it may become “settled science”. :)

            Other than that I could care less what you believe.

    • Safwan Zulfazli

      It’s because of gravity. Gravity acts in all directions causing most objects round in nature

    • Andrew Befus

      Maybe there are square planets. I imagine a huge isometric crystal could serve as a foundation. Would have to be super cold though hey?

  • Jim Heck

    Awesome pic, and I was around in ’72 when the lunar pic was taken but wouldn’t it be easier to land a craft on the “front” side facing us on the moon, with a wide angle lens and get a daily video of the whole thing? Would need power source at “nighttime” but a heck of a lot easier than going to Pluto.

  • Bob Gray

    In 1995 I proposed a project to help people of the Earth consider that we are ALL ONE and ALL ALONE in this universe. By viewing the Earth from nearly a million miles (L1) in real time, Project Earth Angel was to have provided perspective and inspiration that we become far better stewards of both it and of ourselves. Carl Sagan was aware of the project, but terminal illness interrupted discussions.

    My only wish now is that these daily photos be transmitted to a public webpage 24/7 continuous and in real time. That way it is not a picture, but we ourselves in real life. Bob Gray

  • Mike Richardson

    As fascinating as the recent photos from Ceres and Pluto are, images like this bring home the stark contrast between Earth and all the other worlds we’ve surveyed in the solar system. Ours is visibly alive, with an active hydrologic cycle and the spectral signs of a living biosphere even at a distance. Comparison of images like this to future high resolution exoplanet images should help us determine how common worlds like ours are.

    • mary.peters13

      > ====

  • Barbara Snowberger

    Well, for years, now, we’ve been told the universe and the planets are expanding. If that’s really true, then won’t Pluto and it’s moons eventually grow and become as large, perhaps, in a million years or so, as Earth is now? And won’t Earth exponentially grow, too?

    • Andrew Befus

      No. Expansion of space, not matter.

      • OWilson

        Actually matter IS mostly space.

        It’s one of the contradictions of the macro
        (Einstein/Newton theory) versus the micro ( Bohr/Heisenberg).

        They are trying to bring both together with the Theory of Everything.

        • Tom Yulsman

          Mr. OWilson: For once, an apolitical comment. You should try doing that more often.

          • OWilson

            Tell that to Mike R.

            He’s your resident (self admitted )socialist. He gets me started, :)

            But I’ll try to do better.


            But hey Tom, we are all a little guilty. Your recent headlines included “blind Republicans” and even “Rush Limbaugh” Lol

            That’s my point to Mike.

            Science has become so politicked that as Mike says it depends on who has more “facts on their side”

            And, as we should know, “facts” are not knowledge or understanding”.

          • Mike Richardson

            ??? How’d I get dragged into this? My last comment here was complimenting you on an astute observation of a geometric principle. I had no idea Bernie Sanders was going to somehow factor into this discussion. Most of my comments actually aren’t political in nature, unless they’re in response to one of your own, so I’m kind of puzzled over how I get you started. I just never realized I had that much influence over the actions of other people. I better heed the words of Uncle Ben to Peter Parker — “With great power comes great responsibility.”

          • OWilson

            Count your references to Limbaugh, Bush, Cruz, Inohofe et al, and you’ll see what I mean.

            Then look at the above exchange, Lol

            Here I am discussing serious science, and somebody comes along as, usual, with a patronizing, political comment (glad to see you stopped beating your wife, kind of stuff)

            The trouble with liberals is they just can’t see that in their own attitudes. It’s just one of their problems!

          • Mike Richardson

            “The trouble with liberals is they just can’t see that in their own attitudes.” — Looks like the irony detector’s shot in this one. Gonna want to get that replaced, or it’ll just give you more trouble down the road.

          • OWilson

            And, there’s another, folks! :)

        • Andrew Befus

          True. Was trying to keep answer short. Planets are not getting bigger, though apparently one theory has everything ripping apart, so I suppose at some point even the space between atoms of solid matter will expand. Way beyond my understanding…

          • OWilson

            You’re in some excellent company. It’s quantum weird.

            Penrose and Feynman agree that “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.”

            There are so many paradoxes we can’t conceive, time, space, motion, lesser and greater infinities, even life itself, that we should be a little more humble in our statements, like ones posted here recently,

            “Well, we know what happened one trillionth, of a trillionth, of a trillionth of a second after The Big Bang”

            Or “The science is Settled”, which means we might as well close up shop, turn out the light and all go home.

    • OWilson

      If everything, matter and space, got larger or smaller, would anything be different?

      Does “size really matter” if there’s nothing to compare it to?

      Is it the space between objects that is expanding or is matter just shrinking?

      Could an expanding universe just be a shrinking matter universe?

      We wouldn’t need a “big bang” to explain that :)



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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