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Does Planet Earth Need Its Own Flag?

Some think we need a universal flag to stake our claim in space

Graphic design student Oskar Pernefeldt envisions a blue and white flag to symbolize Earth's presence on far off planets like Mars. (Oskar Pernefeldt)
smithsonian.com

Astronauts have planted six U.S. flags on the Moon, but Earth is divided into nearly 200 individual countries. In the event that an extraterrestrial group stumbled upon the flags of Earth's resident countries out in the solar system, things could get confusing. One graphic designer has a solution: Why not devise a flag to represent planet Earth and all its residents.

Oskar Pernefeldt, a student at Beckman's College of Design in Stockholm, Sweden, came up with a international flag design for our humble galactic home, as Elizabeth Howell recently reported for Space.com. Pernefedt started the project as part of his degree, and chose to keep the aesthetic simple and clean. The flag features seven white, interconnected circles that form a flower-like emblem atop a blue background.

Though the layout might appear simple and straightforward, Pernefeldt actually took a strategic approach to creating the design, employing the scientific study of flags or vexillography. For dimensions, he went with the most common ratio for flags here on Earth, 2:3. The blue hue was selected to stand out against the darkness of space and the whiteness of a spacesuit, as he explains in his design proposal.

Initially, Pernefeldt thought the seven circles could represent the planet's seven continents, but later opted against that metaphor, he told Jay Cassano of Co.Exist. Earth's geology could change with climate or geoengineering, or a continent could get demoted (think Pluto's demotion from planet to dwarf planet). Either way, Pernefeldt wanted a timeless design and chose to evoke life's origins on Earth instead. While the "flower" serves as a symbol of the many organisms that inhabit Earth, the blue stands for Earth's water, the presence of which made life possible on our planet — and possibly others. The animated video below walks through the design logic:

While the idea might seem like its from outer space, the premise of intergalactic organizations uniting under one banner is quite common in science fiction, as Ishaan Tharoor points out for the Washington Post. Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers book series has the Terran Federation. Star Wars has the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance. As Jim Festante notes in a video for Slate, Pernefeldt's design bears a similar color scheme to the banner for the United Federation of Planets in Star Trek.

There's also a precedent here on Earth. Pernefeldt isn't the first to suggest a flag for planet Earth. In 1970, a farmer names James Cadle designed a flag that included graphic representations of the Sun and the Moon. Some research facilities focused on the search for extra terrestrial life added the banner to their flagpoles. There's also a flag designed for Earth Day and of course, the flag of the United Nations.

While pictures in Pernefeldt's proposal suggest that the flag could be used on future human colonies on Mars, it might be awhile before an international flag makes it to outer space. In the meantime, Pernefeldt hopes that his design serves as a reminder to Earth's residents that they all share the planet and thus are all tasked with taking care of it and its other residents. 

Then again, aliens who reach the moon might not be all that confused by the American flags after all. After 46 years they have all either fallen apart or turned white

About Helen Thompson
Helen Thompson

Helen Thompson writes about science and culture for Smithsonian. She's previously written for NPR, National Geographic News, Nature and others.

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