NASA’s Iconic ‘Blue Marble’ Photo of Earth Turns 41 Years Old


Backlighting can be all moody and subtle, but you can seldom go wrong with full-on, straight-behind illumination. Especially if your subject is the planet on which your family, friends and all of humanity happens to reside.

That’s what the trio of Apollo 17 astronauts — and soon, the whole world — discovered 41 years and two days ago today. Navigating towards the moon on Dec. 7, 1972,  the spacecraft had the sun behind it, providing a rare, fully illuminated view of the Earth.

The crew snapped a series of spectacular photos with its NASA-issue Hasselblad 70mm, and one of the images — nicknamed the “Blue Marble” for what it reminded the astronauts of — quickly became the defining view of our place in the universe.

NASA has used the moniker "Blue Marble" for many photos of our planet since the original, the highest-resolution of which was 8000 x 8000px and released in January of last year (full res here)

NASA has used the moniker “Blue Marble” for many photos of our planet since the original, the highest-resolution of which was released in January of last year (full res here)

NASA photograph AS17-148-22727 went on to grace everything from coffee mugs to dorm-room posters, and became a unifying symbol for the nascent environmental movement.

NASA and other space exploration agencies have gone on to capture even more detailed images of our orb, but it’s safe to say that none have had the impact and the spread of the 1972 photo, credited by some as the most widely distributed photo ever.

Here, by the way, is the caption that accompanied the original release of the image:

View of the Earth as seen by the Apollo 17 crew traveling toward the moon. This translunar coast photograph extends from the Mediterranean Sea area to the Antarctica south polar ice cap. This is the first time the Apollo trajectory made it possible to photograph the south polar ice cap.

Note the heavy cloud cover in the Southern Hemisphere. Almost the entire coastline of Africa is clearly visible. The Arabian Peninsula can be seen at the northeastern edge of Africa. The large island off the coast of Africa is the Malagasy Republic. The Asian mainland is on the horizon toward the northeast.

(via Pop Photo)

Image credits: Photographs by NASA.

  • kassim

    I don’t see a star. Edited out? 2nd question.. that aperture/shutter speed/ISO they used to take this photo? EXIF? Hahahaha… have good day fellas.

  • Stormin

    are the the original orientation or were these photoshopped to support the anglo-cauacasian North is Up ‘world view’?

  • Cinekpol

    Yes. It’s all photoshopped. Earth is flat, and NASA is full of lies.

  • Sorin

    Am I hallucinating or does this caption not match the photo??!! The caption talks about Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, but all I see are the Americas!! What gives??!!

    Update: I am! I didn’t notice the first photo. Never mind.

  • dll

    Exif from a medium format film camera? :) Guess the post was sarcastic :)

  • Teun

    They underwent a 180 degree turn. The original had the south pointing up.

  • David_Evans

    Stars need a much longer exposure than the Earth. I’m guessing the exposure was around 1/250 sec at f8, ISO 100. You would need several seconds exposure to see a typical star. I do know the lens was a Zeiss 80mm.

  • Caitlyn Eakins

    Great image, but that’s not backlighting.

  • kassim

    Hahahah… of course. ;)

  • kassim

    The article above says it’s 70mm. Thanks for the explanation about the exposure. I really didn’t knew that. That explains the starless Apollo moon photos. The earth must be very bright when looked at from up there.

  • kassim

    Hahahaha.. good one. I bet NASA has the photos of our flat earth, but keep them locked in a super secret, nuclear-proof vault.

  • yeayeah

    The article doesn’t say it’s backlit. It says it’s full-on lighting, meaning the light (the sun) was behind the camera.

  • Jim

    70mm is referring to the film size. 80mm seems a more likely focal length.