I was reading some older (1930s-era) science fiction and noticed that Earth was described as the "Green Planet". In contrast, modern science fiction uniformly describes it as the "Blue Planet". When and why did this change in terms take place?

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    I'm guessing in the 50's when the first space based photographs of Earth were obtained.
    – JohnP
    Aug 24, 2015 at 21:20
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    A google ngrams search suggests both were comparable in popularity throughout the 20th century, until around the late 1960s (I can't explain the large spike in popularity of 'green planet' between 1860 and 1880, though!)
    – Hypnosifl
    Aug 24, 2015 at 22:09
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    @Hypnosifl: Might have something to do with Uranus, which is pale greenish. According to nineplanets.org, "the name 'Uranus' didn't come into common use until 1850", and I guess that might also have been around the time when the first telescope photos of the planets were becoming available.
    – Junuxx
    Aug 24, 2015 at 22:52
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    I can't imagine that Uranus would account for more than a miniscule minority of "green planet" references. Aug 25, 2015 at 19:22
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    I was alive when this shift in perception occurred (late 60's) and I remember well, it was largely attributed to the influence of two famous photographs. The first was the cover of the Whole Earth Catalog (c. 1986), and the second was the picture of the Earth taken from the moon taken by Armstrong and Aldrin (c. 1969). This was followed shortly by NASA's famous "Blue Marble" picture (c. 1970) and finally cemented in the public consciousness by the children's show "The Big Blue Marble" (c. 1972-1980(?)). Aug 26, 2015 at 0:52

3 Answers 3


With the introduction of satellite photography, and the realization that 71% of the Earth's surface is water. People have taken to calling the planet the "Blue Planet."

enter image description here

Looking at the image though, you can also see that it also prominently features green. Suggesting it is a planet with life.

  • 20
    Satellite pictures of Earth often use color bands that are not particularly close to those in human eyes, and even if they would and they weren't manipulated, "true color" would still be kind of arbitrary. I suspect that this image in particular had its green and yellow enhanced, maybe by using infrared, to more clearly show vegetation. See this image for comparison.
    – Junuxx
    Aug 24, 2015 at 23:06
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    I believe that even before satellite photography it was known that about 2/3 of the earth's surface was covered by water.
    – user14111
    Aug 25, 2015 at 3:20
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    life could never develop on earth. All that highly toxic and corrosive oxygen in the air makes it impossible for anything to survive for long...
    – jwenting
    Aug 25, 2015 at 7:32
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    @junuxx photo is primarily of the desert areas of Africa, the original photo is primarily of the Amazon Rainforest... it's fairly unsurprising that they're different in coloration, although the original photo does appear to have been somewhat colour enhanced
    – Jon Story
    Aug 25, 2015 at 17:20
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    There's "knowing" that Earth is 2/3 water, and then there's seeing it. Aug 25, 2015 at 19:22

1908 - Earth, a Blue, Shining Speck

William Hope Hodgson's 1908 novel The House on the Borderland is available at Project Gutenberg:

I drew nigher to our system, and now I could see the shine of Jupiter. Later, I distinguished the cold, blue gleam of the earthlight . . . I had a moment of bewilderment. All about the sun there seemed to be bright, objects, moving in rapid orbits. Inward, nigh to the savage glory of the sun, there circled two darting points of light, and, further off, there flew a blue, shining speck, that I knew to be the earth. It circled the sun in a space that seemed to be no more than an earth-minute.

1925 - Earth, the Green Star

The novelette "When the Green Star Waned" by Nictzin Dyalhis (real name!) was first published in Weird Tales, April 1925. This story is notable for the first known mention of a fictional weapon called a "blaster", or "blastor" as Dyalhis spelled it. The titular "Green Star" is the planet Earth (or "Aerth") as seen from Venus (or "Venhez"):

That something was radically wrong with our neighbor, everybody already knew, for many years before the green light of Aerth had become perceptibly dimmer. Little attention, however, had been paid at first, for, by interplanetary law, each planet's dwellers remained at home, unless their presence was requested elsewhere. And no call had come to us nor to any other world from Aerth; so we had put it down to some purely natural cause with which, doubtless, the Aerthons were perfectly capable of coping without outside help or interference.

But year by year the green light waned in the night skies until finally it vanished utterly.

1939 - Earth, the Green Speck (suggested in a comment by @Ubik)

The short story "Marooned off Vesta" by Isaac Asimov was first published in Amazing Stories, March 1939. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of that issue. The following quotation is from a reprinting of that story in The Best of Amazing (Joseph Ross, ed.), Doubleday, 1967:

He gazed about him. For the first time since the crash he saw the stars, instead of the vision of bloated Vesta which their porthole afforded. Eagerly, he searched the skies for the little green speck that was Earth. It had often amused him that Earth should always be the first object sought for by space-travelers when star-gazing. However, his search was in vain. From where he lay Earth was invisible. It, as well as the Sun, must be hidden behind Vesta.

When the story was reprinted in The Best of Isaac Asimov, among other revisions, the "green speck" became a "blue-white speck". The following is quoted from a 1976 paperback edition, but the text is presumably the same as in the original 1973 hardcover:

He gazed about him. For the first time since the crash he saw the stars instead of the vision of Vesta which their porthole afforded. Eagerly he searched the skies for the little blue-white speck that was Earth. It had often amused him that Earth should always be the first object sought by space travelers when stargazing, but the humor of the situation did not strike him now. However, his search was in vain. From where he lay, Earth was invisible. It, as well as the Sun, must be hidden behind Vesta.

1942 - Earth, the Blue World

The short story "Peril of the Blue World" by Robert Abernathy was first published in Planet Stories, Winter 1942 (available at the Internet Archive), well before the first satellite images of the earth. The "Blue World" of the title is indeed Planet Earth. Here is the beginning of the story:

There are those who have criticized the wisdom of the members of the First Earth Expedition in returning to Mars so precipitately, without completing the observations and explorations which it had been intended they should make. For some time now, we who were with the Expedition and knew the real reason for that return have chosen to ignore these few but noisy individuals; but latterly some of the hot-headed younger generation, but lately out of the egg and unwilling to trust to the wisdom of their elders, have begun to talk of launching a second expedition to the Blue Planet.

Therefore, I, Shapplo with the Long Proboscis, interpreter to the First Expedition, have been commissioned by the crew of the Earth Rocket to tell the full and unexpurgated story of our adventures on Earth, and the reasons for our contention that the planet must forever remain closed to Martian colonization.

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    From Isaac Asimov's Marooned off Vesta, first published in 1939: "Eagerly he searched the skies for the little blue-white speck that was Earth."
    – Ubik
    Aug 24, 2015 at 23:13
  • @Ubik Good find! Is the quotation from a copy of the March 1939 Amazing Stories, or from a reprint? (Some of the Golden Age authors, e.g. Smith and Campbell, revised their stories extensively for republication.)
    – user14111
    Aug 24, 2015 at 23:25
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    @Ubik I don't have a copy of the Match 1939 Amazing Stories but here is how that line is printed on p. 99 of The Best of Amazing (Joseph Ross, ed., Doubleday, 1967): "Eagerly, he searched the skies for the little green speck that was Earth."
    – user14111
    Aug 25, 2015 at 0:10
  • Interesting. In Amazing Stories March 1939 and Amazing Science Fiction March 1959 it is indeed "green speck." In Asimov's Mysteries (1968), it's "blue-white speck."
    – Ubik
    Aug 25, 2015 at 6:31
  • @Ubik Is the March 1939 Amazing online or did you get that from a paper copy?
    – user14111
    Aug 25, 2015 at 6:55

If you go far enough back into SF, you'll find other colors also speculated upon for earth as seen from space. Maybe the sky was blue because other frequencies were being reflected rather than scattered, so it would look red from space; maybe it would be yellow from reflected sunlight...

Half the fun of science is when the universe surprises us. Most breakthroughs are not initially greeted with "Eureka!", but with "Well, that's not what I expected..."

[Citation of citation: Stephen Baxter, in his essay The Moon Is Hell, mentions yellow earthlight in Ray Cummings' Brigands of the Moon (1931), and "blue (or yellow or red or green) Earth" as seen from the moon in a general description of other pre-Apollo SF. I thought he had a more specific mention of red but I'm not finding it right now. Said essay, and a good sampling of Baxter's other short writings, can be found among other places in The Hunters Of Pangaea, published by NESFA Press -- unsolicited plug, I'm not a NESFA member. Yet.]

  • +1 PG has 2 versions of Brigands of the Moon. "We were out on the Lunar surface. A great sloping ramp of crags stretched down before us. Gray-black rock tinged with Earthlight. The Earth hung amid the stars in the blackness overhead like a huge section of [a] glowing yellow ball." is found with the bracketed "a" in the etext of the 1958 Ace reprint, & without it in the etext of Astounding Stories of Super-Science Apr 1930
    – user14111
    Aug 25, 2015 at 4:49
  • Just out of curiosity, does Baxter say anything in that essay about live TV transmissions from the first rocket to the moon in pre-Apollo SF? That was the subject of an old question on this site.
    – user14111
    Aug 25, 2015 at 5:00
  • Baxter's focus in this one is how our view of the moon, and of how we might use the moon, has changed over time. I don't think that broadcast would be directly in scope, but I'll check.
    – keshlam
    Aug 25, 2015 at 14:51

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