7 Views of Planet Earth: From Early Cartography to Satellite Imagery

Explore our home planet and see how our perspective of the Blue Marble has evolved over time

By Google Arts & Culture

Map of the World (-599/-500)British Museum

Map of the Babylonian World

This tablet, dated to approximately the 6th century BCE, is one of the earliest depictions of the known world. It was discovered in what is now Iraq, and shows a map of Mesopotamia, which was the scope of the world known to its creator.

The cuneiform inscription describes the regions. In the map, the Euphrates river flows past Babylon, Assyria, Susa, and other cities represented by small circles, all surrounded by ocean – or “bitter river.” The triangles around the perimeter represent eight outer regions.

Ptolemy's Mappamundi (1472) by Claudio PtolomeoOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid. Todos los derechos reservados.

Ptolemy’s World Map

This 15th-century reconstruction of Ptolemy’s world map shows the Roman Empire’s perspective of their modern-day Africa, Asia, and Europe. The basis for the map, Ptolemy’s ‘Geography,’ was written circa 150 CE.

Despite the persistent myth that people believed the Earth was flat until the modern era, records show that the concept of a spherical Earth appeared as early as the 5th century BCE.

Fra Mauro's mappa mundi (1459) by Fra MauroOriginal Source: Museo Correr

Fra Mauro’s ‘Mappa Mundi’

Cartography continued to develop over the coming centuries, culminating in the Age of Discovery and the creation of Italian monk Fra Mauro’s world map, completed in 1459. It was commissioned by King Afonso V of Portugal, and took several years to complete.

Utilizing compasses and improved sailing technology, Iberian explorers charted more of the world than ever before. This map is oriented with South at the top, as was common at the time. It is most accurate around Mauro’s native region. See if you can spot Italy!

World map (Orbis terrae compendiosa descriptio) (Dated 1587) by Rumold MercatorOriginal Source: Chester Beatty

Rumold Mercator’s ‘Orbis Terrae Compendiosa Descriptio’

By the 16th century, our knowledge of the planet had become remarkably close to what it is today. This beautiful engraved map was created in 1587 by Rumold Mercator, son of renowned Flemish geographer Gerard Mercator.

Rumold’s work was based on his father’s 1569 map, but created without the Mercator projection, a technique which displays curved meridians as straight lines.

Most Amazing High Definition Image of Earth - Blue Marble 2012 (2017-12-08)NASA

Blue Marble – 2012

This composite image of the Earth was created using photographs taken by NASA satellite ‘Suomi NPP’ on January 4th, 2012.

Since the advent of aerial photography, we’ve been able to explore our world from above, with satellites unlocking incredible opportunities for imagery and navigation.

Earthrise Inspiration Photo (2020-09-11) by WilliamArts Council England

‘Earthrise’

This photograph was taken from lunar orbit in 1968 by American astronaut William Anders. What will our perspective of Earth be in 2068?

Street View from the International Space Station

The ISS soars 254 miles above the Earth, offering breathtaking aerial views as it circles the planet. Click to explore the space station, or visit Google Earth to see our world in 360º.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps