Dec 22, 2017

Views of Home

In 1968, Apollo 8 placed humans into lunar orbit for the first time. As the astronauts in their spacecraft emerged from behind the Moon, they were surprised and enchanted by an amazing view of Earth rising over the lunar horizon. Bill Anders quickly snapped a picture of the spectacular Earthrise.

Humankind viewed their planet and saw not a jigsaw puzzle of states and countries on an uninspiring flat map – but rather a whole planet uninterrupted by boundaries, a sphere of dazzling beauty floating alone in the void.

Cameras on NASA spacecraft have treated us to intriguing perspectives of our home planet from various locales.

The Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR mission, was launched to monitor the solar wind in real time, but it has also delivered these wondrous images of every continent peeking out from misty shrouds blanketing our ultramarine oceans. Since mid-2015, DSCOVR has been snapping images like these of the fully-lit Earth, most days every 1 to 2 hours, from a stable point between the Earth and the Sun that is about a million miles (1.6 million km) away.

On Valentine's Day 1990, the Voyager spacecraft captured this photo of our planet from the amazing distance of 3.7 billion miles (6 billion km). This ‘Pale Blue Dot’ image, requested by Carl Sagan of the Voyager imaging team, showed the Earth as a single pixel and inspired Sagan’s book of the same name.

As Sagan wrote "The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena… this distant image of our tiny world … underscores our responsibility to … preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

A number of spacecraft have taken the opportunity to capture images and videos of Earth and the Moon when flying by Earth for a “gravity assist” to far-off bodies in our solar system. Galileo did so in 1992 on its way to Jupiter, as did Juno nearly two decades later. In 2005, MESSENGER took these beautiful images of our home, then looked back again just before entering Mercury’s orbit five years later.

MESSENGER isn’t the only spacecraft to look back at home from its destination across the solar system.

On July 19, 2013, NASA's Cassini spacecraft slipped into Saturn's shadow and turned to image the planet, seven of its moons, its inner rings -- and, in the background, our home planet. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has collected a treasure trove of data and discoveries about the Moon. LRO’s camera also treated us to spectacular views of our planet from lunar orbit. Here’s one such image taken in October 2015.

Images of home have come back to us from Mars’ orbit and from the surface of Mars itself.

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took this picture of our planet and its moon on November 20, 2016, when Mars was 127 million miles (200 million km) away from Earth.

This image, captured by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover from the surface of Mars on Jan. 31, 2014, showed ‘evening star’ Earth shining more brightly than any star in the Martian night sky. From the vantage point of Mars, Earth is visible either in the early evening or early morning, just as Venus is from the vantage point of Earth.

What might the caption be when a human stands on the surface of Mars and focuses the camera back on home?

For more views of Earth from both near and far, visit