Dozens of cameras circle Earth to document the planet in detail, but few ever afford whole views of our world.
The handful of rare glimpses have demonstrated that “Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena,” wrote the late Carl Sagan in Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space.
Robotic probes take most photos of Earth and the moon while en route to planets, asteroids, comets and even other star systems. But the practice of taking planetary self-portraits is almost never artistically motivated.
“We generally do it to calibrate instruments and check a spacecraft’s trajectory. If you point where you think the Earth is and see it, then you’re probably where you think you are,” said planetary scientist Mark Sykes of the Planetary Science Institute.
“But now, as we continue to find other planets, these general views help us look at the Earth in new ways,” Sykes said. “They help us ask, ‘What does a habitable planet look like? What indicates a civilization is there?’”
In this gallery we cover some of the most iconic images of our pale blue dot taken by both robots and humans.
The European Space Agency launched the Rosetta spacecraft in 2004 to land a probe on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in November 2014.
When it swung by Earth for its third and final gravity boost on Nov. 12, 2009, Rosetta took a series of photos of the Earth. The outline of Antarctica is visible in the bottom portion of the planet.
Dave Mosher is a Wired.com contributor and freelance journalist obsessed with space, physics, biology, technology and more. He lives in New York City. G+ Follow @davemosher and @wiredscience on Twitter.