NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) recently imaged an Earthrise over the Moon from the spacecraft’s vantage point in orbit.
“The image is simply stunning,” said Noah Petro, Deputy Project Scientist for LRO at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The image of the Earth evokes the famous ‘Blue Marble’ image taken by Astronaut Harrison Schmitt during Apollo 17, 43 years ago, which also showed Africa prominently in the picture.”
In the above composite image, Earth appears to rise over the lunar horizon from the viewpoint of the spacecraft, with the center of the Earth just off the coast of Liberia. The large tan area in the upper right is the Sahara Desert, and just beyond is Saudi Arabia. The Atlantic and Pacific coasts of South America are visible to the left. In the foreground of the image is the Moon’s crater Compton, which is located just beyond the eastern limb of the moon, on the lunar farside.
This image was composed from a series of images taken Oct. 12, when LRO was about 83 miles (134 kilometers) above the moon’s farside crater Compton. Capturing an image of the Earth and moon with LRO’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) instrument was a complicated task, according to NASA. First, the spacecraft must be rolled to the side (in this case 67 degrees), then the spacecraft slews with the direction of travel to maximize the width of the lunar horizon in LROC’s Narrow Angle Camera image. All this takes place while LRO is traveling faster than 3,580 miles per hour (over 1,600 meters per second) relative to the lunar surface below the spacecraft.
NASA’s first Earthrise image was taken with the Lunar Orbiter 1 spacecraft in 1966. NASA’s most iconic Earthrise photo was taken by the crew of the Apollo 8 mission as the spacecraft entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve Dec. 24, 1968. That evening, the astronauts – Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders – held a live broadcast from lunar orbit, in which they showed pictures of the Earth and moon as seen from their spacecraft. Said Lovell, “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.”