Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
Astronauts in space get to see these views every day. Now, so can you.
Astronauts (and satellites) get a view of Earth like no other. Unlike us commoners on the ground, they get to see our planet in its entirety from hundreds of thousands of miles away. NASA gave us a taste of this view back in July, releasing a majestic image of the water, land, and clouds that make up our big, blue marble.
The agency is now sharing one of its unique vantage points on a website that features new, high-resolution photos of Earth taken over the course of each day by the agency’s four-megapixel Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), which is about a million miles away. The images are created by “combining three separate single-color images to create a photographic-quality image equivalent to a 12-megapixel camera,” NASA wrote in a statement.
Every day, NASA will post a dozen-plus color images of Earth taken 12 to 36 hours earlier, and if users hit “play” on the site, they can watch the planet rotate. If you want to see what Earth looked like in the recent past, there’s also an archive of images going as far back as June 25.
It’s all part of NASA’s two-year Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) mission, launched in February with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) to monitor the solar wind and forecast space weather. That’s an hugely important task, as the satellite provides us with timely warnings of solar storms that “have the potential to disrupt major public infrastructure systems such as power grids, telecommunications, aviation, and GPS,” according to NASA.
As delighted as we are about NASA’s latest news is former Vice President Al Gore, who first proposed the idea for DSCOVR back in 1998, according to NPR:
Gore was so smitten with the view of Earth from space that he put an enormous print of a picture taken by Apollo 17 on the wall of his West Wing office. 'Wouldn't it be nice,' Gore asked in 1998, 'to have that image continuous, live, 24 hours a day?'"
Seventeen years later, Gore—and the rest of the world—finally gets to see this idea come to life.