A True Marvel – The Blue Marble

We are used to seeing the blue skies in the morning and stars and other celestial bodies at night. Moon, Sun, sunrise and sunset, the wind, rain, storms, rainbow, etc.these are the few things that play with our curious mind.

A fish in an ocean can’t imagine the beauty the sea holds until given a chance to see it from outside.A fish can’t create space ships or balloons to do that but we humans can do.

In 1993, United States Army Air Corps Captain Albert W.Stevens expressed his idea to the higher authorities to launch stratosphere expedition to understand cosmic radiation in a better way. He took help from the National Geographic Society for funding. Society’s president Gilbert Grosvenor provided most of the financial support. The balloon reached max height of about 60,000 feet and crash landed because of technical issues. Important instruments we damaged except the spectrograph and barographic readings which were recorded during the mission. The flight was still a success. This mission was named as Explorer 1.

 

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Explorer 1 and Moon (stratocat.com)

 

 

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Explorer 1 failure (stratocat.com)

 

In Feb 1935, the president of the National Geographic Society announced that there would be another mission named Explorer 2.On the mission day at about 11:40 a.m.,the balloon settled at a height of about 72395 feet. Captain Anderson, Captain Stevens and Captain Randolph P. Williams  from Army Air Corps were the flight crew. Along with scientific data, they also brought back the photographic data with first colored images of the stratosphere.Their flight lasted 8 hours and 13 minutes. This journey away from Earth,towards the skies, uncovered the beauty of Earth from above.It was just a beginning.

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Explorer 2 launch (stratocat.com)

 

Then in 1946, rocket-borne cameras gave us first look at Earth from beyond atmosphere. It was a V-2 missile launched from the White Sands Missile Range. When the scientists found the cassette in good shape they were literally jumping with happiness.
More than 1,000 Earth pictures were returned from V-2s between 1946 and 1950, from altitudes as high as 100 miles.

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View of Earth from a camera on a V-2 rocket ( White Sands Missile Range/Applied Physics Laboratory )

 

On December 7, 1972,as the Apollo 17 crew left the Earth,they captured this beautiful picture of Earth in full view,the famous “Blue Marble” shot.It is one of the iconic images in the human history.It was this image after which I fell in love with the beauty that our home planet beholds. This picture was taken after the spacecraft left its parking orbit around Earth,to begin its journey towards the Moon.

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The Earth is seen from Apollo 17

 

The blue crown of queen Earth was now visible.

Earth is the third planet from Sun,the largest of four terrestrial planets. Life has been found nowhere else except the Earth,this fact reflects its importance not just in our solar system and/or galaxy but in the Universe.It was formed along with other planets by gravitational collapse of material from the solar nebula ,which consisted of dust and gas, which created our solar system.

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Artist’s impression of the Solar Nebula ( NASA)

 

Moon is believed to be formed 4.53 billion years ago by the collision of a Mars-sized object,named as Theia, with Earth. Earth’s atmosphere was formed by the volcanic activity and outgassing. The oceans are believed to be formed by condensation brought in by comets,asteroids and protoplanets. The greenhouse gasses prevented the oceans from freezing. Earth’s magnetic field was formed which saved it from the solar wind.As the molten outer layer of Earth cooled down,which lead to the formation of crust.Supercontinents formed and broke three times because of the tectonic plates over a timescale of millions of years.

Chemical reactions that took place about 4 billion years ago are believed to be the cause of the birth of self-replicating molecules on earth.this was followed by last universal ancestor,the first living organism from which the life started.Photosynthesis lead to the accumulation of oxygen in the atmosphere which formed ozone layer after interacting with the atmosphere.Multicellular organisms were formed and the protection from UV rays by the ozone lead to colonization on Earth.The 3.48 billion years old sandstone in western Australia is evidence of fossils from that period.A hypothesis suggests that most of the Earth was covered with ice during the Neoproterozoic period (1000 to 541 million years ago). The most severe glaciation known in the geologic record occurred during the Cryogenian(720 to 635 million years ago) when ice sheets reached the equator and formed a possible “Snowball Earth” when Earth’s surface became entirely frozen at least once.Earth has gone through five major mass extinctions the most recent one which wiped off dinosaurs.

The four spheres that comprise earth’s natural environment are

  1. Hydrosphere – It is the water present on Earth that is continually moving,evaporating from oceans,precipitating and again entering the oceans.The oceans cover 71% of earth’s surface and have an average depth of about 12,500 feet.Then we have fresh underground water,lakes streams and glaciers.These are small sources but are the most important.Water in clouds in the form of water vapor is an important part of climate process.
  2. Atmosphere – It is the blanket of gasses covering the Earth.It is very thick layer as compared to the thickness of Earth(which is about 6400 km). But the atmosphere is an important part of our planet. It is a life saver saving us from harmful radiation from Sun and maintaining the optimum conditions for life to flourish.As the atmosphere interacts with Earth’s surface,we get weather and climate changes.Without an atmosphere, our Earth would look like Moon,no life,no erosion by physical processes etc. Moon has not changed appreciably in nearly 3 billion years.
  3. Biosphere – This represents all the life on Earth.Ocean life, the life on land and microorganisms in the atmosphere. Without these life forms, Earth would have been different.Life forms maintain and alter the physical environment around them.
  4. Geosphere – Geosphere is the solid Earth,extending from the surface to the center of the planet(6400 kilometers) which has been divided into various layers.

These spheres interact with each other and runs the planet like an engine.

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(isws.illinois.edu)

 

Planet earth breathes through its life forms.We are still searching for life at other planets we are planning interstellar travels.But will we be able to find a planet like Earth?

This pale blue dot is like a drop of ink in the vastness of space,it is like poetry written by the Universe where words thrive as humans,animals,oceans,jungles and love.

It is our responsibility to take care of our planet.

 

Floating around the Sun like a bluebird

Billions of years old,still a new bird

Life flourished in its womb

We call it mother Earth

We can find life

But not another Earth

Every time, I see the skies

I see its reflection

Between its oceans and the moon

I like that interaction

Smaller than a grain of sand

In front of the Universe

Standing like a question

In front of this Universe

Earth asks,

Can you find another one like me?

 

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