The very first picture of Earth taken from space was taken on October 24, 1946. It was captured by a 35-millimeter motion picture camera propelled skyward on top of a rocket. The results were grainy, black and white, and all of the same astounding: the round softness of our planet appears there, visually confirming our image of the World.
Scientists were very excited about their success and Megan Garber explains all about the process of sending the rocket with a camera attached to it in this article. Now that Curiosity has landed on the surface of Mars, we are all expecting a new image, the one that shows us interacting with the other planets, shinning as Venus shines over us. Will we see it?
The Blue Marble
Another popular photograph -captured on December 7, 1972 by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft-, depicts our planet rising slowly against the darkness, just like another moon, (this time a blue one), round and smooth: the Blue Marble.
This is how NASA calls our planet, the name you will see in their pictures, taken from satellites around it. With the project The Blue Marble: Next Generation NASA took a series of images that show the color of the Earth’s surface for each month of 2004 at very high resolution -500 meters/pixel- at a global scale, and they are worth taking a look at; since they are the single portraits of our home, as yet the only one we’ve got.
What if we try to move further away?
In 2010, and image of Earth taken by NASA's Messenger deep space probe depicted it with the smaller Moon orbiting around it from a distance of around 114 million miles. These deep space probes that cruise our galaxy can travel and take pictures, yes, but eventually their reach is reduced, there is a point where we simply cannot receive a feed-back. Were we are out of signal, out of reach. So beyond Jupiter, let’s say, we don’t really know how our planet looks like. There is also a mock image on the Internet that pinpoints a bright dot of light amidst other lighted dots, with a big red arrow saying “you are here”, yes. But that doesn’t really help us clarify our location, does it?
Earth, astronomers say, is inside the Solar System, which in turn is part of the so called Local Bubble, in itself cruising within the spiral-shaped concentration of gas and dust called the Orion–Cygnus Arm. Alongside with other galaxies, we all travel trough the Milky Way. Our neighbors are the Andromeda and Triangle Systems.
Although this “location” reaches out to millions of light years, countless planets, and tons of stardust, it still seems to tell very little about the appearance of our own speck of dust, our precious bit of the Universe.
We have named many constellations, stars aligned that, from our small point of view, take the shape of gods, wagons, and fantastic animals. Ursa Minor, Andromeda, Libra,some of the names for the stars and galaxies that we perceive and located, beyond our home. By observing them we make maps, get orientation for our travels, and concoct stories that will help us remember where the North is; which Hemisphere‘s which, and Our Place In The World. But we cannot do this with our own planet.
Maybe if we could take a picture, a portrait from outside our galaxy, we could really know: our position, how do we look like, our name in the eyes of possible spectators. How do they see us? Are we known as the Blue Marble? Is our Solar System known as God’s Ellipse, Nine colored planets System, or Target’s Practice,perhaps?
If someone, something out there is watching, naming us or using us to orient themselves in their own sea, desert or plain, they do not tell us. And we cannot, as yet, orient ourselves, count our stars, or identify us. We lack a perspective, a correctly photographed map, and we can only hope that we will have it once we leave for an interstellar journey, in the distant future. As for now, we need more, much more, than a lonely photograph of planet Earth, even if it is taken from space.