Fifty years ago, a photograph changed the world, or at least the way we see the world. On December 7th 1972, during the last crewed expedition to the Moon, the astronauts of Apollo 17 looked back towards their home planet and pressed the shutter. It was the first time humans had recorded the whole Earth disc fully illuminated by the Sun. That image of a "blue marble" hanging in space captured Earth's beauty, isolation and fragility, becoming an inspiring symbol for the environmental movement and one of the most reproduced photographs in history.

Fifty years later, Planetary Visions has partnered with the Living Earth Orchestra and NASA to celebrate the golden anniversary of the iconic Blue Marble photo with a short film that takes this flat image into the third dimension and brings it up-to-date with a specially-collected satellite image feed.

Contemporaneous weather satellite images have been used to compile a global map of Earth's appearance as it was on the date and time of the original photo. Later satellite images show how much the Earth has changed over the intervening five decades, culminating with images from NASA's Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), which takes whole Earth images with similar illumination to the Blue Marble photo, usually every two hours. For the 50th anniversary day, NASA is providing a unique feed from DSCOVR's EPIC camera, giving natural colour images every 14 minutes. (Check back here next week to view an update with the 2022 EPIC images.)

The Living Earth Orchestra compiled the 1972 global map and underlying surface image and provided the night-time lights sequence. Planetary Visions has matched colour and geometry to the Blue Marble and DSCOVR-EPIC images, compiled the time sequences for the Amazon Basin, Aral Sea and Arctic Ocean, and produced two minutes of 3D computer graphic animation.

Image sources: Blue Marble photo from NASA Apollo 17; Blue Marble Earth 1972 map from Living Earth Orchestra; Night Light image processing by Earth Observation Group, Payne Institute for Public Policy, Colorado School of Mines from US Air Force Weather Agency DMSP-OLS and NOAA/NASA Suomi-VIIRS; Amazon and Aral Sea from USGS Landsat; Arctic Ocean sea ice from ESA Climate Change Initiative/EUMETSAT; 2020/2022 images from NASA EPIC onboard NOAA/USAF DISCOVR.