Most of the representations of the Earth from space that one sees are inventions, meant to clearly show the things people most want to see - the outlines of the continents, instead of mostly clouds as in photos. There has been discussion of this in a recent Astronomy question, and thus I wonder how many real photographs of the entire Earth there really are.

There are the ones from the Apollo missions, I don't know how many, and I think I remember SELENE took a few. Are there any others? How many are we talking about in total?

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    $\begingroup$ None. You can only photograph up to half the surface of Earth at once. :) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 21:46
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    $\begingroup$ I'd argue that those photos aren't inventions, but composites: cloudless areas from different photos are stuck together, so nothing is created from scratch. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 21:50
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    $\begingroup$ What... what have I continued to start? For crying out loud it was a joke about moon men! $\endgroup$
    – corsiKa
    Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 23:23
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    $\begingroup$ Until a few months ago, Dish Network had the Dish Earth channel that was a continuous live broadcast of the image of Earth from one of the satellites they use. Every once in a while, I'd leave the channel on just to glance at it from time to time. It was surprising to see how little of the surface could ever be seen through clouds. I'm pretty sure that SF is in the ballpark with "millions". $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 3:19
  • $\begingroup$ You can also only photograph the outside. $\endgroup$
    – Innovine
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 12:29

4 Answers 4



Meteorological satellites constantly take photos of Earth in a very wide spectrum, and the visible spectrum is a part of it, and many of these satellites travel on pretty high orbits with good overview of the whole Earth. There are many portals with these photos; finding specifically visible spectrum images may be tricky, but, say, pick any hour of any day of past four years in this one, or find one that fits your needs better.

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    $\begingroup$ oops, the link didn't retain the parameters. Pick "vis 0.73mm" on the FY2D link for visible spectrum imagery. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ Wow, that is actually pretty awesome. I didn't know a lot of them are in geostationary. $\endgroup$
    – kim holder
    Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ Those are "photographs" that are taken by scanning the disk over a period of many minutes, so in a way it's still stitched together, but then again, the only real difference with a "regular photograph" is that the stitching there happens with all pixels read out essentially at the same time. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 9:38

None: It is practically impossible to image all of a sphere in a single shot. As mentioned in another answer there a lot of photos; BUT all of those only show half the globe. It is possible to patch photos together to give an image of the whole Earth but there are none that have been taken in a single exposure.

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    $\begingroup$ You're only taking into account the outside surface of the sphere. The question says the Whole earth. $\endgroup$
    – Innovine
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Innovine I felt MRI, ultrasound and/or CT scans would have been outside of 'Photographs' requested by the OP $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 13:14

Since SF.'s correct answer was written before Goresat became operational, I wanted to add an addendum linking to its archive of nice, color, sunlit, full-Earth images taken from L1.

You will find them at https://epic.gsfc.nasa.gov/

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ the patch of clouds where the little hand would be at 11:45 says "zex" if one squints enough. - clearly the NASA artist faking this was dyslexic. $\endgroup$
    – user20636
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 6:24

People seem to be arguing over the definition of 'whole Earth'. If the original questioner is anything like me, I'm thinking 'whole Earth' as a circular image with dark sky (space) all around. This won't be 'the whole of planet Earth in its complete entirety', but it will be more of it than is visible from the ISS, for example, which, at 408km, has insufficient altitude to get a circular image.
In 1967 a satellite took a whole Earth/circular image.
In 1969 Michael Collins took a photo of the (circular) Earth (partially eclipsed).
In 1972 Apollo 17 took a whole Earth/circular image.
In 2015 a satellite (DSCVR) took a whole Earth/circular image.
Why hasn't NASA taken a whole Earth/circular image in 43 years (1972–2015), when Elon Musk managed it with a camera strapped to a car?

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    $\begingroup$ Of course they get a circular view from the ISS. You get a circular view at any altitude. At the low altitudes, the diameter of that circle is only a few kilometers. Far out in space, it approaches the diameter of the planet. NASA has also taken many images of the full earth in the last 43 years. There are many meteorological photos which don't get public attention. One shot that did was when they took shots of the Earth from Cassini, in orbit around Saturn, in 2013. nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/multimedia/pia17171.html $\endgroup$
    – Innovine
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 12:33
  • $\begingroup$ If the distance from Earth surface to orbit is much bigger than the diameter of the Earth, a good aproximation of 'whole Earth image' is possible. This is true for satellites in GEO. There are many satellites in GEO, but the majority of them are not used to make images of the Earth. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ -1 for saying there are no whole-Earth photos between 1972 and 2015 when another answer indicates that lots of whole-Earth photos are made daily. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ Whole Earth photos are not made daily, and even if they were, they would indeed be 'made', i.e. composite images stitched together from numerous satellite passes. To be clear then, the image from 1972 was a single image developed from 35mm film. The Tesla car image was a still capture from live video streaming - a whole Earth image. Composite satellite images are, by their very nature, not 'whole' Earth images. If Elon Musk can do it simply by launching a car with a camera on it, why didn't NASA do something similar in 43yrs of space dominance? $\endgroup$
    – MGC
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 17:00
  • $\begingroup$ @MGC: See accepted answer, which is, y'know, not talking about composites from multiple passes, but essentially single shots from a given perspective. -1 for selective reading. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 0:13

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