Happy Earth Day (from Space)

Note: This article first appeared here on Scienceblogs one year ago today.

There are many ways to celebrate Earth Day, from sustainability efforts 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 the entire 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.

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... Aurora australis, not borealis. Hate to be pedantic. Lovely photo though and I pinched it for my collection.

By Wayne Robinson (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

Thank you, and happy Earth Day to you. I just wanted to say I'm enjoying your blog, which I discovered by doing a search on "analemna". I look forward to reading more.
jg

Wayne, I'm pretty sure that the upper photo (with Antarctica clearly visible) is the Aurora Australis, but I'm also pretty sure that the lower one is indeed the Aurora Borealis. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure I got it right up there.

John G, I love the bright skies initiatives! Good to have you here, and good luck to you in Temecula Valley!

Wow! Those are some incredible pictures, at first I thought the one from the IMAGE satellite was actually CGI! And that's why I'm a space buff, you don't fully appreciate our little gem of a planet until you see it in its full glory from orbit.

Yeah Ethan,

You're right. Sorry, I have got to stop commenting when I first wake up. The aurora borealis wasn't as impressive.

By Wayne Robinson (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

The photo of Earth from Saturn reminds me of Carl Sagan's Pale blue Dot.

His reflections (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pale_Blue_Dot) still rate as one of the most moving and equolent pieces that I have ever read.

It's statments like his on our place in the universe that should be compulsory reading for all school students or, even better, world leaders - maybe then we would spend less time killing each other and more time trying to understand the universe.

Ross, good point.

I remember the first modern Earth Day, so much was acomplished, yet we have backtracked somewhat. I hope that this new generation can continue with what was started in 1970...an awareness and an end to planetary abuses.

Carl Sagan-A Pale Blue Dot-1994

By Sphere Coupler (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

Wow those are some good pictures of space. There are so many good thing on earth that people can buy. For example copper cookware is an excellent thing to buy.

So beautiful, thank you for the pics! Reminds of what a big fan I am of the earth, perhaps I should be come more observant of it's special day....

Thank you for this post! I love Earth day! I wish there was someone I could send bid flowers to like Valentines day but, I guess I could always just plant some. Earth day is my favorite holiday, I wish more people appreciated it.

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. I wonder if it affects the weather, because according to weathercast forecaster, the moon affects the atmospheric waves of the earth.

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. I wonder if it affects the weather, because according to the moon affects the atmospheric waves of the earth.