Earth Day from Space

There are many ways to celebrate Earth Day, from sustainability efforts (and check out our new blog, Guilty Planet) to simply appreciating nature.

And while this is a beautiful shot of Forest Park right here in Portland, it doesn’t compare — in my eyes — to the perfection of Earth as seen from so far away.

In October of 1946, a V-2 missile was launched from New Mexico, straight up into the air. And at its maximum height of 65 miles (just barely into what was then considered outer space), it snapped the first photographs of the Earth from Space. (And you can click every image on this page to enlarge it.)

It wasn’t until Apollo 8, 22 years later, that the first color photograph of Earth was taken. The sole idea of Apollo 8 was to orbit and take photographs of the Moon, but when William Anders saw Earth rising over the Moon, he snapped the most famous photo of the mission, known simply as “Earthrise.”

And now, in the 21st Century, we’ve got a myriad of satellites, shuttles, spacecraft and rockets to choose from if we want to photograph the Earth. And there are some beautiful shots out there, such as from the International Space Station‘s 7th expedition.

The IMAGE satellite captured the Aurora Australis over the southern hemisphere after a record-setting Solar Flare in 2005 (and movies are available here).

While, on the other side of the Earth, the United States’ Space Shuttle photographed this shot of the Aurora Borealis in 2007.

But for the very last photo I’ll leave you with, I’d like to remind you of how tiny we are once you get just a little ways away. The Cassini spacecraft, out at Saturn, took this photograph of the Earth in September 2006. The Earth is the tiny, bluish dot on the right of the image, just inside the outermost, diffuse ring.

Notice how, in the close-up inset in the upper left-hand corner, there’s a little blur on the upper left hand corner of the Earth? Say hello to the Moon, as seen from Saturn.

That’s us, folks. That’s our wet, little rock, that nobody cares about (yet) except us Earthlings. So appreciate it, be aware of it, and — most of all — enjoy living on it! Happy Earth Day.


  1. #1 g
    April 22, 2009

    “It wasn’t until Apollo 8, 22 years later, that the first color photograph of Earth was taken.”

    The first photograph of the whole globe, maybe. But plenty of color cameras were in Earth orbit before that, taking pictures similar to the V-2 experiment.

  2. #2 Vince
    April 22, 2009

    These are some amazing pictures, thanks for posting them. The Aurora Borealis picture is the coolest. I wanted to share wit everyone on this day some suggestions on what you can do to help the Earth:, you can add your own suggestions.

  3. #3 Andrew
    April 22, 2009

    That picture Cassini is breathtaking. We talk about it all time, but its hard to really visualize how small we are compared to the rest of the universe

  4. #4 Brian Shiro
    April 23, 2009

    Very nice post, Ethan!

  5. #5 wybory sondaze demokracja
    April 23, 2009

    Wow, those pictures are just gorgeous… I’m looking forward next shots!

  6. #6 Daneel Olivaw
    April 23, 2009

    That last picture is, IMO, one of the most important pictures there is. Before that photo, many people talked, theorized and put emphasis about our place in the universe. But now we can actually see it and feel so more deeply…

  7. #7 Bryn
    April 28, 2009

    All of these shots just “(3rd)rock” Ethan … more power to ya Brother! Bryn, from Brisbane Australia.

  8. #8 Alexander
    April 4, 2010

    For a truly amazing and humbling perspective on our place in the universe, read the article and enjoy the associated image on the Wiki article entitled “Pale Blue Dot”

    Absolutely breathtaking to realize how nearly infinitely small we are in our wonderful universe.

  9. #9 Shrikant Mokal
    Mumbai, India
    August 26, 2012

    Nice to see our blue planate …..from space

  10. #10 Andrew Mac Gregor
    Johannesburg, South Africa
    February 4, 2013

    I wish we could wake up to a live feed from a satellite of earth… maybe it will help us want to look after it….

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