Mystery of the Blue Marble

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Alexandra Siy         
STEM through the lens


     Chances are you’ve seen this photograph before—maybe on a T-shirt, on a billboard, or in a TV ad. The “Blue Marble Shot” has been reprinted more than any other photograph in history. It was taken on December 7, 1972, by one of the three Apollo 17 astronauts on their way to the Moon. But no one knows which astronaut took the picture because all three claimed to have been the photographer.

       During the few minutes Apollo 17 flew across the place in space located directly between the Sun and Earth (which was 28,000 miles away), no one should have been looking out of the window as they all had important tasks to do. But, obviously, someone, and perhaps everyone, was looking out. One of them grabbed a camera and clicked the shutter four times. 

     After Apollo 17 returned to Earth, the picture was published on the front page of newspapers all over the world. For the first time ever, people saw the full planet Earth completely flooded in sunshine. Heavy clouds swirled over vast oceans. The African coastline was clearly visible, with its northeastern edge fitting like a puzzle piece with the Arabian Peninsula. Madagascar, the fourth largest island on Earth, was slightly off center, looking like a slipper floating in the middle of the Indian Ocean. And because the photo was taken just two weeks before the winter solstice, Earth’s southern hemisphere was tilted toward the sun, revealing Antarctica.  For the first time ever, the south polar ice caps appeared in a photo.

     The mystery of who took the picture has never been solved. The commander of the mission, Eugene Cernan, who was the last man to walk on the moon, says he snapped the picture. But would the commander have had the time to take the photo at that critical point of the flight? Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, the first geologist sent to the moon, also swears that he took the picture. Perhaps that makes sense because he was responsible for making scientific observations. Ron Evans, who died in 1990, also claimed that he took the picture. 

       No one will ever know for sure who took the Blue Marble Shot. But the words of Commander Eugene Cernan describe what he saw out of his spaceship window “…you can look out the window and you’re looking at the most beautiful star in the heavens— the most beautiful because it’s the one we understand and we know, it’s home, it’s people, family, love, life —and besides that, it is beautiful. ”


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In Alex’s book Cars on Mars you can follow the course of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission as twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity explore the Red Planet. Learn how scientists determined that there was once water on Mars and how the earthbound NASA team resolved problems with the rovers from afar in order to prolong the mission, which continues today.  For more information, click here.  

Alex is a member of iNK’s Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom,  a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam.  Click here to find out more.


MLA 8 CItation
Siy, Alexandra. “Mystery of the Blue Marble.” Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 30 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ Mystery-of-the-Blue-Marble. 

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