Earth in culture


The Blue Marble photograph of Earth, taken on the Apollo 17 lunar mission in 1972.

The cultural perspective on Earth, or the world, varies by society and time period.[1] Religious beliefs often include a creation belief as well as personification in the form of a deity. The exploration of the world has modified many of the perceptions of the planet, resulting in a viewpoint of a globally integrated ecosystem. Unlike the remainder of the planets in the Solar System, mankind didn't perceive the Earth as a planet until the sixteenth century.[2]


Unlike the other planets in the Solar System, in English, Earth does not directly share a name with an ancient Roman deity.[3] The name Earth derives from the eighth century Anglo-Saxon word erda, which means ground or soil. First usage came from the Hebrew word ארץ ('éretz), meaning earth or ground, that existed over 1400 years ago noted, in the Hebrew in Genesis 1. It became eorthe later, and then erthe in Middle English.[4] These words are all cognates of Jörð, the name of the giantess of Norse myth. Earth was first used as the name of the sphere of the Earth in the early fifteenth century.[5] The planet's name in Latin, used academically and scientifically in the West during the Renaissance, is the same as that of Terra Mater, the Roman goddess, which translates to English as Mother Earth.

Planetary symbol

Astronomical symbol of Earth

The standard astronomical symbol of the Earth consists of a cross circumscribed by a circle. This symbol is known as the wheel cross, sun cross, Odin's cross or Woden's cross. Although it has been used in various cultures for different purposes, it came to represent the compass points, Earth and the land. Another version of the symbol is a cross on top of a circle; a stylized globus cruciger that was also used as an early astronomical symbol for the planet Earth.[6]

Religious beliefs

Earth has often been personified as a deity, in particular a goddess. In many cultures the mother goddess is also portrayed as a fertility deity. To the Aztec, Earth was called Tonantzin—"our mother"; to the Incas, Earth was called Pachamama—"mother earth". The Chinese Earth goddess Hou Tu[7] is similar to Gaia, the Greek goddess personifying the Earth. To Hindus it is called Bhuma Devi, the Goddess of Earth. (See also Graha.) The Tuluva people of Tulunadu in Southern India celebrate a Three Day "Earth Day" called Keddaso. This festival comes in usually on 10th,12th,13 February every Calendar year. In Norse mythology, the Earth giantess Jörð was the mother of Thor and the daughter of Annar. Ancient Egyptian mythology is different from that of other cultures because Earth is male, Geb, and sky is female, Nut. However, in roughly 3500 BCE Moses began writing the book of Genesis in which the first verse of the Bible translates "In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth."

Creation myths in many religions recall a story involving the creation of the world by a supernatural deity or deities. A variety of religious groups, often associated with fundamentalist branches of Protestantism[8] or Islam,[9] assert that their interpretations of the accounts of creation in sacred texts are literal truth and should be considered alongside or replace conventional scientific accounts of the formation of the Earth and the origin and development of life.[10] Such assertions are opposed by the scientific community[11][12] as well as other religious groups.[13][14][15] A prominent example is the creation–evolution controversy.

Physical form

The first photo from space was taken on 24 October 1946.

In the ancient past there were varying levels of belief in a flat Earth, with the Mesopotamian culture portraying the world as a flat disk afloat in an ocean. The spherical form of the Earth was suggested by early Greek philosophers; a belief espoused by Pythagoras. By the Middle Ages—as evidenced by thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas—European belief in a spherical Earth was widespread.[16]

Memorial for the second oldest international organization the Universal Postal Union in Bern, a sculpture of Earth and the personified continents by René de Saint-Marceaux (1909),[note 1] becoming in 1967 the organization's symbol.[17]
A modern depiction of Earth before any images from space (W. T. Benda, 1918).

Modern perspective

Dark grey and black static with coloured vertical rays of sunlight over part of the image. A small pale blue point of light is barely visible.
Pale Blue Dot, Earth seen from about 6 billion kilometres (3.7 billion miles) appears as a tiny dot within deep space: the blueish-white speck almost halfway up the light band on the right.[18]

The technological developments of the latter half of the 20th century are widely considered to have altered the public's perception of the Earth. Before space flight, the popular image of Earth was of a green world. Science fiction artist Frank R. Paul provided perhaps the first image of a cloudless blue planet (with sharply defined land masses) on the back cover of the July 1940 issue of Amazing Stories, a common depiction for several decades thereafter.[19]

The first photograph ever taken of an "Earthrise," by astronaut Frank Borman on Apollo 8 in late 1968.

Earth was first photographed from a satellite by Explorer 6 in 1959.[20] Yuri Gagarin became the first human to view Earth from space in 1961. The crew of the Apollo 8 was the first to view an Earth-rise from lunar orbit in 1968, and astronaut William Anders's photograph of it, Earthrise, became iconic. In 1972 the crew of the Apollo 17 produced The Blue Marble, another famous photograph of the planet Earth from cislunar space. These became iconic images of the planet as a marble of cloud-swirled blue ocean broken by green-brown continents. NASA archivist Mike Gentry has speculated that The Blue Marble is the most widely distributed image in human history. Inspired by The Blue Marble poet-diplomat Abhay K has penned an Earth Anthem describing the planet as a "Cosmic Blue Pearl".[21]

A photo taken of a distant Earth by Voyager 1 in 1990 inspired Carl Sagan to name it and describe the planet as a Pale Blue Dot.[22]

Since the 1960s, Earth has also been described as a massive "Spaceship Earth," with a life support system that requires maintenance,[23] or, in the Gaia hypothesis, as having a biosphere that forms one large organism.[24]

Over the past two centuries a growing environmental movement has emerged that is concerned about humankind's effects on the Earth. The key issues of this socio-political movement are the conservation of natural resources, elimination of pollution, and the usage of land.[25] Although diverse in interests and goals, environmentalists as a group tend to advocate sustainable management of resources and stewardship of the environment through changes in public policy and individual behavior.[26] Of particular concern is the large-scale exploitation of non-renewable resources.[27] Changes sought by the environmental movements are sometimes in conflict with commercial interests due to the additional costs associated with managing the environmental impact of those interests.[28][29][30]

Cupola above the darkened Earth.jpg

Since 2010 the Cupola of the ISS has allowed for a wealth of intricate images of Earth from orbit.[31]

Notable images of Earth from space

Year Event Image Refs
1972 December 7, 1972: the widely used The Blue Marble was taken by the crew of Apollo 17.[32] The photograph's original orientation had south pointed up.[33] Apollo 17 Blue Marble original orientation (AS17-148-22727).jpg
The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg
1990 February 14, 1990: the Voyager 1 space probe took the Pale Blue Dot photograph of Earth from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles, 40.5 AU), as part of that day's Family Portrait series of images of the Solar System. Earth appears as a tiny dot within deep space: the blueish-white speck almost halfway up the brown band on the right.
Diagram of the Family Portrait showing the planets' orbits and the relative position of Voyager 1 when the mosaic was captured.
Pale Blue Dot.png
2001–2004 Blue Marble Next Generation.
Blue Marble composite images generated by NASA in 2001 and 2002.[34]
NASA Earth Observatory animation of Blue Marble Next Generation (2004); see also interactive map of monthly snapshots)
BlueMarble monthlies animation.gif
2010 Family Portrait (MESSENGER) MESSENGER Solar System Family Portrait.jpg [34]
2013 The Day the Earth Smiled – 2013 photograph of Saturn and Earth The Day The Earth Smiled - Preview.jpg [36]
2015 Launch of Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR). The Moon moving in front of Earth in July 2015. The far side of the Moon faces the camera.[37] Dscovrepicmoontransitfull.gif [39][37]

See also


  1. ^ A postage stamp honoring the sculptor and the monument was issued jointly by Switzerland and France.


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  3. ^ Blue, Jennifer (25 June 2009). "Planetary Nomenclature FAQ". Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature. Retrieved 6 January 2010.
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  12. ^ Science, Evolution, and Creationism National Academy Press, Washington, DC 2005
  13. ^ Colburn, A.; Henriques, L. (2006). "Clergy views on evolution, creationism, science, and religion". Journal of Research in Science Teaching. 43 (4): 419–442. Bibcode:2006JRScT..43..419C. doi:10.1002/tea.20109.
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  20. ^ Staff (October 1998). "Explorers: Searching the Universe Forty Years Later" (PDF). NASA/Goddard. Retrieved 5 March 2007.
  21. ^ An Anthem for the Earth Kathmandu Post, May 25, 2013
  22. ^ Staff. "Pale Blue Dot". SETI@home. Retrieved 2 April 2006.
  23. ^ Fuller, R. Buckminster (1963). Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (First ed.). New York: E.P. Dutton & Co. ISBN 978-0-525-47433-3. Archived from the original on 28 October 2004. Retrieved 21 April 2007.
  24. ^ Lovelock, James E. (1979). Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth (First ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-286030-9.
  25. ^ McMichael, Anthony J. (1993). Planetary Overload: Global Environmental Change and the Health of the Human Species. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-45759-0.
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