the blue marble

NASA’s “Blue Marble” image is one of the best-known high-resolution pictures of our planet. It’s even included as one of the default images for Apple’s iPhone. Now NASA has released a brand-new “Blue Marble 2012,” based on image data from the VIIRS instrument aboard Suomi NPP, the most recently launched Earth-observing satellite. They have also recently releases the other side of the blue marble photo…

To learn more concerning NASA program…

pale blue dot

It’s been over 20 years since the famous “pale blue dot” photo – Earth as seen from Voyager 1 while on the edge of our solar system (approximately 3,762,136,324 miles from home).

the pale blue dot

Carl Sagan’s words are always worth remembering: “Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Chichen Itza from above

This satellite image from GeoEye highlights the Maya pyramid known as El Castillo, or the Kukulkan Pyramid, the focal point of a monumental plaza at Chichen Itza on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. The pyramid was apparently constructed with an eye to the calendar: During the spring and autumnal equinoxes, patterns of sunlight move across the main stairway to make it look as if the body of a serpent (Kukulkan) is creeping downward to join up with a giant serpent’s head carved in stone at the bottom.

Each of the stairways has 91 steps, and when you add the platform at the top, the total comes to 365 steps — the number of days in a year. The Maya, of course, were expert calendar makers. The fact that their “long count” calendar comes to an end in 2012 has led some to fear that the world will end. But even present-day Maya say that’s silly. It’s merely the end of a cycle, just as we’ll be ending a calendrical cycle in just a couple of weeks. We’ll see.

Chichen Itza on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula