Seeing the Earth from space is one of the most humbling reminders of the smallness and fragility of our planet, and of the insignificance of humanity. In the words of Carl Sagan, “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner.”
The following images are not actual photographs from space, though many people on the internet have mistaken them for real photos from NASA. They were actually created by graphic artist Anton Balazh (Антон Балаж) from St. Petersburg, Russia. The images achieve their beautiful realism by compounding and altering real satellite images from NASA’s Visible Earth catalogs, and using GIS data to depict bathymetry and topography. The height of mountain ranges, which would normally look flat from space, are exaggerated in a style called raised-relief. The images were then altered to make them appear variously at night, day, and twilight. The effect is incredible, showing our planet as a tapestry of glowing city lights without political borders or labels.