If satellite's antennas shrink the world, their cameras magnify it

I just saw this picture from NASA's DSCOVR probe. Since Apollo 17's "Blue Marble" Earth's view from space is more than familiar. But maybe because of its unusual clarity, I had never felt so strongly the weight of the fact that what I'm seeing is a photograph, rather than a diagram or a composite.

Pictures like this give space-age humanity a historically unique perspective. If satellite's antennas shrink the world, their cameras magnify it.

From space the dominant feature is clouds. Mountains and hills, ubiquitous in my country, are not discernable at a glance. There is no obvious sign of cities or roads. The tension between humanity and nature is barely visible in the contrast between arid brown and luscious green. Canada's arctic forest and the tropical jungle from southern Mexico to the Amazonas look magnificent.

The roundness of the planet is striking. The Moon itself, even when full, is more of a disc than an orb in the sky. But familiarity with the terrain and the perspective provided by the cloudy swirls leave no room for perception of a flat Earth, although it indeed looks remarkably smooth.

As a result of the curvature distances look much larger. Buenos Aires seems very far away from San Francisco, not only in land distance as can be seen on a map, but because of how much of the Earth you have to go around to get there. In the context of the picture, the Earth's tilt is clearly seen and its influence in the seasons more easily understood. The immensity of the Pacific Ocean is stunning.

This is certainly not the first amazing picture to come from space exploration. Advances in science and technology have made it possible to photograph incredibly remote and amazingly large objects. Through space probes we can explore the surface of worlds that were discovered merely decades ago. But even while I marvel at the drive and intellect that make those images possible, the remoteness and the vastness of their subjects often make me feel small and insignificant.

Seeing this picture I don't feel tiny. Maybe it is the subject, so familiar and dear. Or my lifelong fondness for vantage points and sweeping views.

This picture makes me feel a part of something bigger.


You can read more about the picture and the probe that took it in this article from The Atlantic.

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