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multiple photos of earth with varying dates (1972 to 2015); the color, angle, clouds, and (seemingly) even continent size seem to vary Caption: Come on NASA* make your mind up, what does the Earth really look like?
*All images are official NASA pictures of Earth, as released through the mainstream media outlets and major news agencies of the world. Questions: How big is America? What color are the oceans, and the land? Why is there never any real video of the earth spinning, only stills? Why are the images so varied? Do you really believe this is where you live? Do you actually trust NASA?

I'm not exactly sure where this image originated; I first saw it on this Chinese news article about flat earthers. I found similar images here, here, here and here via image search.

The above image has a lot of claims; here I'm only talking about...

How big is America?

(The rest are just "that's how [cameras/weather/space] works".) But in the 2012 image especially, America (the continent) looks bigger, and Britannica cites it as a NASA photo from 2012:

A composite image of Earth captured by instruments aboard NASA's Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite, 2012.

I guess it's because the photo was taken closer up than the others, but I'm not sure.

Question: Did America change size in NASA photos over the last 50 years?

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  • Only the 2002 and 2012 photos are even close to the same viewing angle, so we can ignore the others, unless there's a claim that they don't match the distortions predicted by geometry. Of those two, the 2012 one does make North America seem larger; the way they've been scaled down makes details hard to make out, but I think the camera in the 2012 image is slightly further south, so North America is seen at more of an extreme angle.
    – IMSoP
    Jul 9 at 9:35
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    I can't even identify the claim you are trying to extract from that question. How do you get from the short "How big is America?" to someone making the claim that America changed size in the photos? The latter is your claim, and thus not very notable. The former question might as well question if NASA manipulated the images, if they are completely faked, or if the land grows, etc.
    – pipe
    Jul 9 at 13:04
  • Of course the view has changed. NASA has multiple satellites at multiple altitudes above the surface of the Earth. Jul 10 at 22:39
  • "composite image" suggests that wasn't even a single photo, but one reassembled from (spherically) edge fitting multiple ones. Reading the description linked from Dave's answer seems to reinforce that impression "This composite image uses a number of swaths of the Earth's surface taken on January 4, 2012." Google Earth does the same developers.google.com/earth-engine/guides/ic_composite_mosaic
    – Fizz
    Jul 16 at 7:59

2 Answers 2

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The 2012 photo makes Mexico and the US look big because the photo is from the Suomi NPP satellite which is only 518 miles above the surface of the Earth. So it is only 518 miles from Mexico, but several thousand miles away from other points on the hemisphere and much less than an entire hemisphere is seen.

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Summarising the images:

Year Centre America
1972 Indian Ocean Not visible
1997 Columbia Top left of the globe
2002 New Mexico Just above centre
2007 Columbia Top left of the globe
2007 North Atlantic Ocean Left of the globe
2012 Mexico Above centre
2013 Mid Atlantic Ocean Left of the globe
2015 Unclear Unclear

So it is not comparing like with like. In the images where America is off to one side, of course it looks smaller, because the Earth isn't flat: it is a globe.

There are only two images where America is reasonably central (2002 and 2012). In 2002 America, the largest part of the land mass is partially obscured by cloud, so at first sight it does look smaller. The 2002 America is also a bit further north, and this too makes it look smaller, as it is less central that in 2012.

The question asks

Did America change size in NASA photos over the last 50 years?

Answer:

No, America has remained the same size, apart from a few centimetres of tectonic plate movement. However due to spherical geometry it does appear to be smaller when not central.


Addressing the sub-questions:

Q. What does the Earth really look like?
A. The distance shown is about the distance of the moon, so very few people have even seen the Earth from that distance. The rest of us have to make do with pictures.

Q. How big is America?
A. This is a rhetorical question, and can be found in numerous references.

Q. What color are the oceans, and the land?
A. Their color varies with weather, time of day, angle of sun, and the camera used. As an observer on Earth, the ocean varies in color from day to day, even from minute to minute.

Q. Why is there never any real video of the earth spinning, only stills?
A. There is, see live streaming video from the space station. At a greater distance, the motion is so slight as to be pointless taking videos. The ones released by NASA (from around this distance) are made from stills, wherein the Earth apparently rotates considerably faster than in reality.

Q. Why are the images so varied?
A. Because of different position of the camera, weather etc.

Q. Do you really believe this is where you live?
A. I don't live there.

Q. Do you actually trust NASA?
A. This is the punchline of the propaganda pitch, which begins with an absurd claim, progresses to ridicule, and finally attempts to undermine the credibility of NASA, and by implication, the whole of America.

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  • A second factor on video: What would take it? There's not much reason to put a bird out that far to take the video. (Birds heading elsewhere could snap such shots, though.) Jul 9 at 21:24
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    You didn't mention what's probably the most important factor, the altitude of the (real or simulated) camera. See: walter.bislins.ch/bloge/…
    – benrg
    Jul 9 at 23:32
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    @WeatherVane They were all scaled to the same number of pixels. That tells you nothing about the (angular) diameter.
    – benrg
    Jul 9 at 23:38
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    @WeatherVane Visit the site I linked, which has an interactive demonstration, and/or read DavePhD's answer.
    – benrg
    Jul 9 at 23:53
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    @bebrg yes, I just read that, and you were right: I overlooked that if the camera is quite close, the horizon is not the whole diameter of the earth. Jul 9 at 23:55

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