In 1972, Apollo 17's iconic “Blue Marble” photo of the fully illuminated Earth was released. It would become one of the most widely distributed photos in human history. Now NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) has released photos of Earth in unprecedented quality, opening doors for possible uses of the images.
The newly released, “epic,” photo was taken on July 6 with the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), onboard DSCOVR. The climate observatory monitors the weather in space, including solar winds. The photo was created by combining three separate images taken using the red, blue, and green channel images (the camera has 10 separate color channels). This technique compares to prior images taken of Earth, such as the one taken in 2012, which combined “swaths” of Earth’s surface.
President Obama tweeted “Just got this new blue marble photo from @NASA. A beautiful reminder that we need to protect the only planet we have” after seeing the picture.
The president’s tweet is reminiscent of the atmosphere surrounding the 1972 Blue Marble photo, which quickly became a symbol of the 1970s environmental movement. But Apollo 17 also marked the end of an era: The mission was the last time humans set foot on the moon.
The caliber of the photos has opened doors for ways the images can be used. With the new data from EPIC, ozone and aerosol levels in Earth’s atmosphere can be measured, along with cloud height, vegetation properties, and the ultraviolet reflectivity of Earth.
"The high quality of the EPIC images exceeded all of our expectations in resolution," said Adam Szabo, a DSCOVR project scientist. "The images clearly show desert sand structures, river systems and complex cloud patterns. There will be a huge wealth of new data for scientists to explore." With this abundance of data, NASA is also planning to create dust and volcanic ash maps of the entire planet.
But wait, there’s more! Additional images of Earth are being created by the EPIC team, which will emphasize land features by removing the blue atmospheric tint seen in the newly released NASA photo, a result of “the effects of sunlight scattered by air molecules,” according to NASA.
Beginning in September, NASA will post daily photos of the Earth from the EPIC camera, to a dedicated website. In the first week, humans will have collected more complete photos of Earth than in all of history combined, allowing a "first time study of daily variations over the entire globe," according to NASA.
[Editor's note: An earlier version misstated the NASA spacecraft that had capture the image.]