How was this photo captured? Is it CGI? It looks a little odd to me.

enter image description here

EDIT: No, nobody claimed this was a real photo, I was personally curious and skeptical to whether it was, and unaware of the requirement before I posted. (This was my first question on skeptics.SE)

  • 44
    Where did you find it? Did they claim it was real?
    – Oddthinking
    Jan 10 '18 at 11:29
  • 39
    For comparison an actual picture from space. The light effects aside (which might have been the result of heavy postprocessing), take note how little even the Himalaya rises above the average curvature of the earth. Then look at your picture... Papua / Indonesia rising above the horizon like that? No way. (Not an answer, but as others have already found the actual sources, I thought I'd add this comment at least.)
    – DevSolar
    Jan 10 '18 at 12:10
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    A handy visualization in dealing with these types of images is one that's been uttered for ages: "If you shrank the earth down to the size of a [billiard/bowling/basketball] it would be even smoother [than said ball]." While the accuracy of that varies from one ball to another, it's generally true. Here's a good article going into the math of it from astronomer Phil Plait: blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2008/09/08/…
    – thanby
    Jan 10 '18 at 23:07
  • 10
    Given that the photo seems to be by an artists who sells it on shutterstock, I'm not sure with the copyright implications of hosting the image like this.
    – Christian
    Jan 11 '18 at 9:29
  • 10
    This question fails to challenge a notable claim. Any claim at all really. Why hasn't it been closed as such?
    – Mast
    Jan 12 '18 at 9:13

No, it is not a real photo. It is computer rendering created by Anton Balazh, a graphic artist who lives in St. Petersburg, Russia

This graphic is available in his portfolio on Shutterstock:

Highly detailed Earth, illuminated by moonlight. The glow of cities sheds light on the detailed exaggerated terrain and translucent water of the oceans. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.


Many stock photo sites sell images like this. If you compare these you see they are digitally enhanced or that digital elements have been added, some sites say e.g. for your photo Elements of this image furnished by NASA.**
They attribute the copyright to 'Antartis' or 'Antartis Professional Photography'. This appears to be Anton Balazh from St. Petersburg, Russia.
He made these kinds of 'relief maps'.

Here is his Russian website, last updated in 2003, where he calls himself a designer (on his site he only shows advertisements he designed)
He currently is more active on social media, you can e.g. ask him via his Twitter account if you want to know how he made these exactly.

'Original'* versions of this picture are also floating around, e.g. here. Some of these refer to Anton Balaz's ShutterStock account (also named antartis).
Indeed, you can find your photo there with and without the light enhancements.

* As Common Guy says in his answer, even those have their height exaggerated
** I was unable to find it on NASA sites

  • It looks like two people were working on this simultaneously ;-)
    – user22865
    Jan 10 '18 at 11:35
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    I (perhaps naively) assumed that the NASA-contributed elements were GIS data-points rather than photographic images. I've no evidence to support this.
    – Oddthinking
    Jan 10 '18 at 13:40
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    @OddThinking I'm also questioning what the NASA furnished elements would be. The picture almost looks like aerial photography (or CGI) rather than something taken from (low) earth orbit. The earth curvature is too strong too.
    – user22865
    Jan 10 '18 at 15:05
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    @JanDoggen The images are probably based on a combination of NASA images like the Blue Marble from visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=73580 together with night lights (the 'Black Marble') from eg nasa.gov/topics/earth/earthday/gall_earth_night.html. The elevation data could be from NASA data like SRTM: www2.jpl.nasa.gov/srtm or ASTER: asterweb.jpl.nasa.gov/gdem.asp. Then all combined together in a 3D and/or GIS package, probably with some Photoshop as well. Jan 10 '18 at 16:36

The following images are not actual photographs from space, though many people on the internet have mistaken them for real photos from NASA. They were actually created by graphic artist Anton Balazh (Антон Балаж) from St. Petersburg, Russia. The images achieve their beautiful realism by compounding and altering real satellite images from NASA’s Visible Earth catalogs, and using GIS data to depict bathymetry and topography. The height of mountain ranges, which would normally look flat from space, are exaggerated in a style called raised-relief. The images were then altered to make them appear variously at night, day, and twilight.

This quote is obtained from the Decolonial Atlas blog which is speaking of this image and others by the same artist.

[Google reverse image search is wonderful.]

  • 3
    @Oddthinking: why is this a valid answer if mine isn't? Try the following experiment: I do not post my answer here but instead write it as a blog post. I then come back here and link to my own blog post, quoting a sentence like Joseph's. It would be a valid answer then? Hard to believe.
    – delete me
    Jan 12 '18 at 15:30
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    @ThomasWeller I don't know what your original answer was, but you may want to ask on meta. Answer requirements on Skeptics.SE are a bit more stringent than most other SE sites.
    – RToyo
    Jan 12 '18 at 19:17
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    @RToyo: many SE sites have become a bit toxic with their rules. I'm not here that often. I don't think it's worth the effort asking on Meta. I'll just get back to my old behavior and read only.
    – delete me
    Jan 13 '18 at 7:27
  • @Deleteme: I'm not sure why you have a problem with my post. I quoted and linked to a post on a site that showed where it came from with more examples of the artist's work that also linked to the artist's site. I followed up with a quick comment, so it's not just a copy-and-paste as you claim, though I wasn't really thinking about it at the time or whether it actually mattered. I merely did what the questioner didn't know they could do or was too lazy to do. I answered the question. I appreciate the cleanup in the edit, though. Looks much neater. :) Feb 18 '18 at 3:00

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