Planets and Moons  ID: 3936


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The famous color photograph known as Earthrise, as well as a black-and-white image taken a minute earlier, document the moment when Earth was seen for the first time by human eyes from behind the Moon. They were taken on December 24, 1968 by the crew of Apollo 8, the first humans to leave low Earth orbit.

The sight of a small, intensely blue Earth rising above the barren, gray horizon of the Moon was one of the few things that NASA and the crew of Apollo 8 had not thoroughly planned and rehearsed beforehand. As historian Robert Poole noted, this lack of preparation meant that the sight of Earth came with the force of a revelation, not just for the astronauts but for everyone on the ground. We came all this way to explore the Moon, Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders said, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.

Using the latest elevation data from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, this visualization attempts to recreate what the astronauts saw. The virtual camera of the rendering software is put in the position of the Apollo 8 spacecraft at the time of the photographs, as the spacecraft emerged from its fourth pass behind the Moon. It shows a two-minute interval centered on 16:39:06 UT (10:39 a.m. Houston time) on December 24, 1968. This is around the time of AOS (acquisition of signal), the moment when radio contact is re-established after being lost on the far side of the Moon.

The position and motion of the spacecraft are based on a state vector, a set of (x, y, z) position and (vx, vy, vz) velocity values, published in NASA's Apollo 8 Mission Report about a year after the flight. The animator translated these values, given in Moon-centered inertial coordinates for Besselian year 1969.0, into a modern coordinate system, then calculated an orbit. The spacecraft was 110 km (68 miles, 60 nautical miles) above the surface of the Moon at 11.2°S 113.8°E when the Earthrise photograph was taken.


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Visualization Credits

Ernie Wright (USRA): Lead Animator
Chris Smith (HTSI): Producer
Richard Vondrak (NASA/GSFC): Scientist
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

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LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter)

Data Used:
LRO/LOLA/Digital Elevation Map also referred to as: DEM
Aug 2009 to Sep 2011
Clementine/UVVIS Camera/750-nm Basemap
Mosaic - Feb 26 to Apr 21 1994
Terra/MODIS/Blue Marble
Jun to Sep 2001
The Blue Marble data is courtesy of Reto Stockli (NASA/GSFC).
Note: While we identify the data sets used in these visualizations, we do not store any further details nor the data sets themselves on our site.

This item is part of these series:
The Moon
LRO - Animations

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