From a Distance

Published:December 7, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

The famed “Blue Marble” view of Earth turns forty years old today. From

A large part of Blue Marble’s lasting appeal surely has something to do with the fact that the proportions and the features on display in the photo are so familiar. In a roughly square frame sits the almost perfectly round Earth (seen from a distance of about 28,000 miles). We not only see Africa: we recognize Africa. We recognize the Arabian Peninsula. We see Antarctica’s polar ice cap; in fact, we can almost discern its texture. And maybe it’s an illusion created by the gorgeous, swirling clouds against the deep blue of the Atlantic and Indian oceans, but it almost seems that we can make out tiny crests of waves far below, on the sea.

The caption, meanwhile, that NASA first drafted for this image all those years ago remains a model of near-clinical clarity:

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 Madagascar. The Asian mainland is on the horizon toward the northeast.

No bravado. No chest-thumping. Just an admirable, matter-of-fact restraint that belies not only the significance of the image, but its beauty.

CHECK IT OUT: NASA’s Blue Marble 2012, taken on January 12, 2012.

RE THE POST’S TITLE: Nanci Griffth

IMAGE: Earthrise, or the so-called blue marble view of Earth, taken from Apollo 17 on its way to the Moon, December 7, 1972 (NASA)