This summer, NASA released the first true picture of Earth in its entirety in decades. Now what used to be a historic event is about to become routine: We're going to see new whole-Earth shots every single day.
The images come from the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a partnership between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Air Force. The DSCOVR spacecraft, launched in February 2015, is orbiting between the Earth and the sun. Its primary purpose is to observe solar wind activity.
But the spacecraft's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) will also allow scientists to observe daily changes on the planet's surface. They might make observations about sudden changes in vegetation or cloud height, for example.
And since the camera is looking anyway, we might as well enjoy the bounty.
NASA will post a dozen or so images onto EPIC's Web site once every day. Together, the sequence of images will show the entire Earth as it rotates into the sunlight.
Fun fact (and because I get this question all the time): There are no stars visible in these types of photos because they're taken with incredibly short exposures. That's because Earth -- as it reflects the sun -- is super bright compared to the darkness of space around it. To capture the Earth without getting a blown-out ball of light, EPIC has to limit its exposures to just 20 milliseconds or so. The surrounding stars aren't bright enough to show up.
Some people think that seeing the Earth as it really is -- a mote of dust suspended on a sunbeam, as Carl Sagan would say -- changes our perspective of it. Astronauts have described a feeling dubbed the overview effect, where their perspective of Earth as a planet surrounded by space makes them more protective of it, and more supportive of the global community. There's no way of knowing whether looking at our pale blue dot every day will make us better humans -- but hey, it can't hurt.