Blue Marble

14Oct05

In 1966, the fellow that founded the Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand, started a campaign to push NASA to publicly release the then rumored images of the Earth from space, in the hopes that it would serve as a striking symbol of humanity and our relationship to our environment. It’s funny to think about how short a time ago it was that blue and white sphere on a field of black was unfamiliar. That’s us.

Today, Blue Marble is the name of a NASA project to create Earth imagery from space, providing the public with this awesome perspective on the planet. It’s the closest most of us will ever come to seeing the little Earth from space. The latest images, produced last year, are called Blue Marble: Next Generation, and they’re purely stunning. If people take the time to look at them, and really think about what they mean for us all, the scientific benefits of space exploration just might be outweighed by the social benefit.

Blue Marble Next Generation, February

Take a look. (at the new video, especially)

the second bit

There’s the usual we’re small, and we’re all in this together aspects of the looking at the planet (not minor lessons). In the video, there’s also a sense of scale in time. When you can see snow and ice grow and recede across the surface of vast continents over the course of months, you realize the possibility for great magnitudes of change over even short time spans. Humans have never been too good at really understanding time scales much beyond a human lifetime. Probably a big part of why evolution and other stuff has such a hard time with some folks — it’s hard to “get” successive change that happens over billions of years. Neat to see massive change in months, in a few seconds.
The Blue Marble animations are pretty amazing. Maybe they’re somehow surprising; they show us something we can’t really conceptualize on our own.

Maybe that’s why religion is so popular. It’s all about awe and amazement, appealing to how little it seems we can know and understand about a complicated world. Glad the products of science can amaze us just as well as the products of spirituality and religion. Careful about this — but they can go hand in hand.

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