The image, nicknamed "Blue Marble 2012," is composed of multiple, detailed photographs taken by one of NASA's satellites as it orbited the Earth on Jan. 4. View it in high-resolution on NASA's Flickr page.
It is part of a series of pictures captured by NASA's Earth-observing satellites over the years. The project is known as Blue Marble after the famous photograph taken during the Apollo 17 Moon mission in 1972.
Each new image is more detailed than the last, thanks to the improvements in technology. NASA claims currently to operate "18 of the most advanced Earth-observing satellites ever built."
The 2012 picture was captured using the space agency's most recent Earth-observing satellite, Suomi NPP, launched in Oct. 2011.
Suomi NPP orbits the Earth roughly 14 times each day and observes nearly the entire surface, according to Discovery News. It carries the Visible/Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), which collects visible and infrared imagery of the Earth's surface.
The satellite has a Sun-synchronous orbit, which means that whenever and wherever it crosses the equator, it is always the same time on the ground. Therefore every image it captures has similar lighting, useful when they are stitched together in a composite image like this one.
The resulting data will help improve weather forecasts and monitor our climate, the Washington Post said.