MapCarte 57/365: Blue Marble by the crew of Apollo 17, 1972

MapCarte57_bluemarbleOne of the most enduring and inspiring images of Earth, this classic photograph taken by Jack Schmitt (but credited to the entire crew of NASA’s Apollo 17 mission) was taken as the astronauts travelled toward the moon. It was shot at December 7, 1972, at 5:39 a.m. EST (10:39 UTC) with the sun directly behind the lens that created a fully illuminated Earth.

Maps take many forms and remotely sensed images are merely one end of the spectrum of abstraction. They are the most realistic of maps, capturing the features at a moment in time with the naturally occurring colours, shapes and forms of that make up the landscape in view. This view of Earth shows almost the entire coastline of Africa and, although shrouded in cloud, it was the first time that the Antarctic ice cap was visible from space due to the trajectory of the spacecraft. A cyclone exists in the Indian Ocean in the top right of the image.

The image has become arguably the most widely distributed photograph of all time and ignited a growing wave of environmentalism in the 1970s. Earth is seen as vulnerable and isolated in the expanse of space; it has become an icon of global awareness. Of course this image isn’t without some cartographic tweaking. The original photograph was taken showing Earth in a different orientation but the published version had been rotated to give us the familiar view of north upwards. Even a beautiful image such as this isn’t devoid of a little cartographic design to make it more understandable!