When humans and robots are launched into space on distant missions, it is a quiet tradition to temporarily turn back to Earth and take a photo. These uncommon views of Earth, taken from hundreds, thousands, millions, or even billions of miles away, often with old cameras, are hard as crisp or interesting as the smartphone pictures we snap today on terra firma. But the brilliant perspective they afford more than recompensed for any graphic shortcomings. Images of Earth from space not just help researchers study how a habitable planet looks from far, helping the hunt to find more exoplanets, but also remind us of an embarrassing and chilling truth: we live on a small, fragile rock that is miserably lost in the cosmic void.
Here are 25 of the most thrilling and attractive images of Earth and the Moon from space that humanity has ever captured. (We suggest seeing this post on a desktop computer.)
A small number of rare satellites launched by mankind enjoy a complete view of Earth from thousands or even a million miles away.
Captured by: Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) spacecraft
Date: April 9, 2015
NASA and NOAA formed this composite image using photos taken by Suomi NPP spacecraft, a weather satellite that circles Earth 14 times a day. You can see the Joalane hot cyclone in the Indian Ocean (top right).
Their endless gaze helps us observe the health of our planet while capturing rare alignments of the Sun, Moon, and Earth.
Captured by: Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR)
Date: March 9, 2016
Revolving from a million miles (1.6 million km) away, NASA's DSCOVR satellite always sights this sunny half of our planet. This allowed it to take 13 pictures of the Moon's shadow as it moved across Earth during the complete solar eclipse of 2016. Together, they form one of a complete views ever of the planet.
But it's when we course deeper into space that Earth comes into fascinating focus.
Captured by: Rosetta
Date: 12 November 2009
To meeting with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in the year 2007, which it will crash into, on 30 September 2016, the Rosetta spacecraft required a speed boost with the help of Earth's gravity. This photo it took of Earth views the South Pole and Antarctica brightened by the Sun.
Our planet seems as a brilliant blue marble covered in a thin, almost invisible veil of gas.
Taken by: Apollo 17's crew
Date: 7 December 1972
The team of the last crewed lunar mission, Apollo 17, took this 'blue marble' photo of Earth, one of the most reproduced pictures in history (though no one is sure which astronaut took it), from 28,000 miles (45,000 km) away on their journey to the Moon. Africa is visible at the extreme left of the image, and Antarctica on the bottom.
And it floats completely alone in the blackness of space.
Taken by: Apollo 11's crew
Date: 20 July 1969
A sight of Africa taken from 98,000 miles (158,000 kilometers) away from Earth, while astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin , and Michael Collins were on their way to the Moon.
Source: NASA/Flickr; NASA
Well, quite alone.
Taken by: DSCOVR
Date: 16 July 2015
Every two times in a year, the Moon passes between DSCOVR and its main target, and then we get a strange look at our satellite's far side. This collection of images was taken between 3:50pm and 8:45pm EDT. (The yellowish mark to the right of the Moon is a camera artifact.)
The Moon, a cold, airless sphere of rock 50 times smaller than Earth, is our biggest and closest celestial friend.
Taken by: William Anders of Apollo 8's crew
Date: 24 December 1968
NASA's popular 'Earth-rise' image was taken as Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, William Anders , and Jim Lovell circled around the Moon. During a program with Earth, Lovell said: "The gigantic loneliness is wonder inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth."
Its relationship with us is mysterious: the Moon formed after a Mars-size planet hint into a proto-Earth some 4.5 billion years from now.
Taken by: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)
Date: 12 October 2015
It was launched by NASA in 2009; LRO ordinarily gazes down at the cratered surface of the Moon but took a minute to take this modern-day 'Earthrise' composite image.
We understand this only because, since the 1950s, countries all around the world have launched people and robots there.
Taken by: Lunar Orbiter 1
Date: 23 August 1966
In year 2008, the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project, released this high-resolution type of a Lunar Orbiter 1 image of Earth from the Moon, which was taken on Aug. 23, 1966. Lunar Orbiter 1 snapped this photo while exploring for places astronauts might land on the Moon. Because 1960s technology could not access the complete depth of picture data that NASA had recorded on analog tapes, but, the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project(LOIRP) just recovered this version of the famous image. The full-size version is big enough to print as a billboard.
Our lunar exploration is a motley pursuit of technological takeover...
Taken by: Michael Collins of Apollo 11's crew
Date: 21July 1969
The Eagle lunar section of Apollo 11 as it comes back from the surface of the Moon.
A whetting of limitless human curiosity...
Taken by: Chang'e 5-T1
Date: 29 October 2014
A rare sight of the far side of the Moon. Taken by the China’s National Space Administration lunar satellite. China has grown progressively capable of exploring the solar system along with
Sources: NASA APOD,
And seeking out the ultimate exploration.
Taken by: Apollo 10's crew
Date: May 1969
The astronauts Thomas Stafford, Eugene Cernan , and John Young took this video during Apollo 10, the second crewed mission to the Moon, what was basically a dry run for Apollo 11 (not including the landing). Because only one side of the Moon always faces our planet, such 'Earthrise' sights only happen when a spacecraft is moving.
The Earth never appears to be too far from the Moon.
Captured by: Clementine 1
The Clementine mission was launched on January 25, 1994, as part of a joint NASA-strategic security initiative. Before spinning enthusiastically out of control on 7 May 1994, it took this complex photo of Earth, as seen across the northern pole of the Moon.
Source: NASA GSFC
But the beyond we send our spacecraft...
Taken by: Mariner 10
Date: 3 November 1973
A mixture of two photos (one of Earth and one of the Moon) snapped by NASA's Mariner 10 spacecraft, which traveled to Mercury, Venus, and the Moon after launching from a repurposed Global Ballistic Missile.
The more peculiar our home appears...
Taken by: Galileo
Date: 16 December 1992
On its course to study Jupiter and its Moons, NASA's Galileo spacecraft got its second speed lift from Earth's gravity. About a week after that speed boost it took this composite image from 3.9 million miles (6.3 million kilometers) away. The Moon, which is about one-third as bright as Earth, is nearer to the viewer in the foreground.
And the lonelier it seems.
Captured by: Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR)
Date: 23 January 1998
NASA's asteroid-bound NEAR spacecraft took these two different images of Earth and the Moon from about 250,000 miles (402,000 kilometers). Antarctica is visible in the South Pole. NEAR sooner or later reached Asteroid 433 Eros, began revolving around the space rock and positioned its Shoemaker lander spacecraft in 2001.
Source: NASA APOD
Most images do not exactly portray the distance between Earth and the Moon.
Taken by: Voyager 1
Date: 18 September 1977
Most pictures of Earth and the Moon are (artful) cut-and-paste combinations since they are so far away from one another. But, this is the first image of both worlds ever taken in a single frame, when Voyager 1 was 7.25 million miles (11.66 million kilometers) away, on the way to its 'grand tour' of the solar system.
Only by means of traveling hundreds of thousands or millions of miles away, then turning around, can we really appreciate what the 239,000 miles (385,000 kilometers) between two worlds truly looks like.
Taken by: Mars Express
Date: 3 July 2003
Nearly 5 million miles from Earth and traveling towards the Red Planet, the Mars Express spacecraft looked back home and took this photo. The satellite has orbited Mars and snapped its surface in 3D since December 2003.
Source: NASA, ESA
It is a massive and empty rift.
NASA/JPL/Arizona State University
Captured by: Mars Odyssey
Date: 19 April 2001
This infrared image, taken from 2.2 million miles (3.5 million kilometers) away, exposes the huge distance between Earth and the Moon, 239,000 miles (385,000 kilometers), or about 30 diameters of Earth stacked together. The Mars Odyssey spacecraft took the photo on its way to the Red Planet.
Even when combined together, the Earth-Moon structure looks unimportant from deep space.
Taken by: Juno
Date: 26 August 2011
The Earth and the Moon look tiny from 6 million miles (9.6 million kilometers) away in this Juno spacecraft image, taken on 26 August 2011. Speed-boosting gravity backings are a popular time for exploratory spacecraft to snap the Earth and its Moon. NASA's Juno spacecraft took this image (and many others, which were made into a strange animation) during its nearly five-year-long journey to Jupiter, where it is recording the gas giant in ways researchers had formerly only dreamed of.
From the soil of Mars, it could just be another 'moving star' in the night sky that confused early astronomers.
Captured by: Spirit Mars Exploration Rover
Date: 9 March 2004
About 2 months after a textbook arrival on Mars, the Spirit rover looked up at the sky to look for Earth and found it as a small dot. NASA says this "is the first photo ever taken of Earth from the surface of a planet beyond the Moon." In this image, Earth is approximately 161 million miles (259 million km) away.
From Saturn, Earth appears to vanish in the brilliant light of the gas giant's icy rings.
Taken by: Cassini
Date: 15 September 2006
NASA's nuclear-powered Cassini spacecraft snapped 165 different photos in the shadow of Saturn to make this backlit variety of the gas giant.Almost by chance, Earth is hiding in the photo, off to the left. Though it looks like a bright dot in Saturn's rings, the world is in fact 928 million miles (1493 million kilometers) away.
Billions of miles from Earth, as Carl Sagan superbly quipped, our world is just a "pale blue dot", a small and lonely orb where all of our triumphs and tragedies play out.
Taken by: Voyager 1
Date: 14 February 1990
This image of Earth, the 'pale blue dot', is just one frame of a 'solar system portrait' that Voyager 1 took at approximately 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) away from home.
Here is an shortened text of Sagan's speech about the image:
"We flourished in taking that picture, and, if you look at it, you see a speck. That’s here. That is home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived or lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident faiths, ideas and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, each young couple in love, each and every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the time, which has past, 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 kings so that in glory and in triumph they could become the temporary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the residents of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable residents of some other corner of the dot. How common their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how keen their hatreds. Our posturing, our imaginary self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. To my mind, there is maybe no better demonstration of the madness of human conceits than this distant image of our small world. To me, it underlines our responsibility to deal more responsive and thoughtfully with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we have ever known."
Sagan's message is unchangeable: there is only one Earth, and so we need to do everything in our power to protect it, and mostly from ourselves.
Captured by: SELENE/Kaguya
Date: 5 April 2008
Japan's Moon-orbiting Selenological and Engineering Explorer (SELENE) spacecraft, also known as Kaguya, took this video of Earth rising above the Moon, sped up 1,000%, on the 40th anniversary of NASA's Apollo 8 'Earthrise' image.
Sources: NASA APOD; JAXA; YouTube
This article was originally written by Business Insider.