This New 'Earthrise' Photo from NASA Is Simply Breathtaking
A gorgeous shot of Earth with the moon in the foreground, captured on Oct. 12, 2015 by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft.
Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

A spectacular new photo of Earth from space recalls the two most famous images of our planet ever taken.

The photo, which was captured by NASA's robotic Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), shows a sunlit Earth looming above a rumpled moonscape banded with shadow.

"The image is simply stunning," Noah Petro, deputy project scientist for LRO at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement. "The image of the Earth evokes the famous 'Blue Marble' image taken by astronaut Harrison Schmitt during Apollo 17, 43 years ago, which also showed Africa prominently in the picture."

The shot is a sort of combination of the Blue Marble photo and an earlier "Earthrise" image, which was taken by the Apollo 8 crew — the first people ever to leave Earth orbit — as they entered orbit around the moon on Dec. 24, 1968.

"It was credited with awakening the modern version of the environmental movement," former United States Vice President Al Gore said of the 1968 photo at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco on Dec. 16.

"Within 18 months of this image being seen here on Earth, the first Earth Day was organized," Gore added. "The Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and its counterparts in many other countries came in the immediate aftermath of the consciousness-raising that accompanied this picture."

The 1968 photo was not actually the first Earthrise image; that distinction goes to a picture taken by NASA's robotic Lunar Orbiter 1 spacecraft in 1966. But the black-and-white 1966 picture did not have the same dramatic and lasting impact on society, Gore said.

The new photo, which NASA released Friday (Dec. 18), was created from a series of pictures that LRO took on Oct.12, when the car-size probe was about 83 miles (134 kilometers) above the lunar far side's Compton Crater. (The moon is tidally locked to Earth, meaning observers on the planet only ever one face of the satellite — the near side.)

The $504 million LRO mission launched in June 2009 and initially worked primarily as a scout, gathering data that could be useful for future crewed journeys to the moon. The spacecraft transitioned to more of a pure science mode in September 2010.

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