4.1.1c  Apollo 8 Still images – Home again

The next image in the time sequence is a return to magazine 13. Photograph AS08-13-2369 (figure 4.1.53) is part of a small series of identical shots of Earth that appear after close-ups of the lunar surface and after pictures of a receding Moon, clearly placing it after TEI. It is analysed in figure 4.1.54.

Figure 4.1.53: AS08-13-2569. High quality source here: AFJ

Figure 4.1.54: ESSA-7 images dated 25/12/68 (right) and 26/12/68 (left) compared with AS08-13-2369 and Stellarium estimate of time at terminator.

As this photograph shows the exact region where the dividing line between days for ESSA mosaics is placed, ESSA images dated the 25th are used to discuss the areas east of that line, and dated the 26th for areas west of that line.

Describing the scene where Africa dominates is always tricky in terms of relating it to ESSA images because of the mosaic dividing line. This image does, however, show clear differences in the weather systems either side of that dividing line that helps make it simpler. East of the divide, the green arrow (which is the same weather system identified with that colour in figure 4.1.50) points to clouds that show a definite difference on the image dated the 25th compared with how it looks on the image dated the 26th. Likewise the blue arrow and cyan arrows point to systems east of the divide look very different compared with the west side.

The red arrow points to a front on the western side of the divide, and if this system is compared with the one shown on the ESSA mosaic dated the 25th, he central blob of cloud shown in the latter is missing, and it is also not far enough to the east compared with the image dated the 26th.The thin line of cloud crossing the Apollo image over the southern Sahara towards Arabia (purple arrow) does not show as clearly on the ESSA mosaic dated the 25th.

The data catalogue for ESSA shows that the images dated the 25th consist of orbits 1640-1652, while the ones dated the 26th are 1652-1664, so the last orbit on the  mosaic dated the 25th is the same as the first orbit on the mosaic dated the 26th (the line on the latter is clearly further east). The time for orbit 1652 is given as 10:05 on 26/12/68, which is roughly 3 hours before the Stellarium suggests the Apollo image was taken.

There is a colour image showing almost the same scene in magazine 15, AS08-15-2563, and this is shown below in figure 4.1.55, along with a zoomed and cropped image of the Earth from that image. Ostensibly this image looks identical to the one from magazine 13, but there zooming in on the terminator does show where the difference lies (figure 4.1.56).

Figure 4.1.55: AS08-15-2563, with a zoomed and cropped Earth from that image. High quality source here: AFJ

Figure 4.1.56: Arabia as seen in AS08-13-2369 (left) and AS08-15-2563 (right).


The weather systems are very much the same, so it is obviously taken on the same date, but it should be evident that the Arabian landmass is much close to the terminator in the colour image compared with the black and white. The amount of rotation is consistent with a time lapse of about 15 minutes between them.

Several photographs of the same scene were taken in magazine 15, and the next photograph showing a different view in magazine 15 is AS08-15-2574. This is shown below in figure 4.1.57 and analysed in figure 4.1.58.

Figure 4.1.57: AS08-15-2574. High quality source here: AFJ

Figure 4.1.58: ESSA-7 image compared with AS08-15-2574 and Stellarium estimate of time at terminator.

Despite Africa having moved its relative position by some distance between this photograph and the one used previously, most of the weather systems available for comparison are still visible. The magenta, purple red and yellow arrows all point to the same weather systems identified in figure 4.1.54. The time of the image is put by Stellarium at 16:00, and this time lapse has allowed the front identified by the red arrow to change its position in comparison with figure 4.1.52, and it appears much less solid than before. The ESSA orbit for the terminator here is track 12 (orbit 1653), which commenced at 12:00 on the 26th.

As with the preceding image, a different magazine shows an almost identical view. Magazine 14 has photograph AS08-14-2509, which appears after several photographs of the entire Moon through red and blue filters. This photograph is shown below in figure 4.1.59, together with a zoomed and cropped Earth from it.

Figure 4.1.59: AS08-14-2509 with zoomed and cropped Earth from it. High quality version here: AFJ


Again there is evidence that the two images, although very similar, were not taken at exactly the same time. If the area around the terminator over Libya is zoomed in on, the terminator line seems marginally different, as can be seen in figure 4.1.60.

Figure 4.1.60: Libya terminator as seen in AS08-15-2574 (left) and AS08-14-2609 (right)


Of the two, it appears that AS08-14-2609 was taken slightly later than the one from magazine 15. The cloud masses over the Mediterranean to the north are clearly nearer the terminator in magazine 14's contribution, as is the dark spot on the terminator that is Libya's Haruj volcanic field.

It's also with noting the shadows cast by the long clouds in central Libya between and the Tassilie n Aljer desert area and the Haruj, which are entirely consistent with a sunset time period. Once again we have a situation where two apparently identical photographs are not, purely because the Earth is moving while the astronauts return to it.

The next shot of Earth is a return to the 16mm footage. This time we have a pan of the Earth taken through the CSM’s sextant, and by piecing together individual frames we can get a view of the whole disk (figure 4.1.61).

Figure 4.1.64: AS08-15-2576. High quality source here: AFJ

Figure 4.1.65: ESSA-7 image compared with AS08-15-2576 and Stellarium estimate of time at terminator.

Once again we have a duplicate image from magazine 14, AS08-14-2518. This image is shown below in figure 4.1.66, together with a zoomed and cropped Earth from it. On this occasion there is no obvious difference in the relationship of the various land masses and cloud patterns to the terminator, although comparisons are not helped by the out of focus nature of AS08-14-2518.

Figure 4.1.66: AS08-14-2518 with zoomed & cropped Earth from it. High quality source here: AFJ


This view of south America is unique, compared with the same view from other days, and your there are no weather systems in it showing the same configuration as previous ones of south America. The time is now 21:00 in the 26th, and ESSA's orbit for the terminator would have been carried out at 17:05 (track 2, orbit 1656).

We now switch back to magazine 16 for our image sources, as no other magazines contain images after 21:00 on the 26th.  The first one under consideration is AS08-16-2619, shown below in figure 4.1.67, and analysed in figure 4.1.68.

Figure 4.1.67: AS08-16-2619. High quality source here: AFJ

The Earth has rotated around to hide all but the very tip of south America in darkness, bringing the large swirl of cloud (red arrow) visible in the previous image towards the terminator. This same swirl of cloud is actually referred to in the mission transcript during a TV broadcast, when at 20:53 GMT the crew describe:

128:02:38 Lovell: At the tip of South America, there is a great swirl of clouds down there. It looks like a great storm…And then up to the left hand side, or towards the north, we can see the light waters around the West Indies, and we can actually see Florida. I'm looking through Bill's monocular, and I can see the various land masses, South America and the central part and southern part of the United States.

which matches well with the suggested time for the previous image of around 21:00.

Other features visible on the previous image include the feature identified by the yellow arrow, where two streams appear to cross. This can also be seen in figure 4.1.35, where the curl of cloud is also visible, but there is less cloud between the main bands in that image.

Stellarium suggests a time for AS08-16-2619 as midnight on the 27th, and the remaining images on the magazine are a regular marking of the mission's progress towards re-entry at 15:27 GMT on that date.  ESSA's terminator orbit is number 1658 (track 4), which was commenced at 21:04, while ATS' image was taken at 00:45 on the 27th.

A short while later we have AS08-16-2626, which can be seen in figure 4.1.69 below, and analysed overleaf in figure 4.1.70. There are relatively few differences between this image and AS08-16-2619, but it does at least bring those weather patterns visible in ATS-1 more clearly to the fore.

The blue, yellow and green arrows point to the same weather systems as they do in figure 4.1.54, although for the latter two most of the weather system they are part of are now beyond the terminator.

ATS-1's time, as before is 00:45, while ESSA's nearest terminator orbit was started at 23:09 (track 5, orbit 1659), which compares well with Stellarium's estimate of 02:00.

The next images showing different views of Earth (AS08-16-2632 & 2634) show only a small change, and there is little to be gained from analysing them. For the sake of completeness they are shown below in figure 4.1.71, together with the zoomed and cropped Earths from them.

Figure 4.1.69: AS08-16-2626. High quality source here: AFJ

Figure 4.1.71: AS08-16-2632 original and zoomed (far left and left, high quality source here:  AFJ) and AS08-26-2634 original and zoomed (right and far right, high quality source here:  AFJ)


The next image to be examined in detail is AS08-16-2637, shown below in figure 4.1.72, and analysed in figure 4.1.73.

Figure 4.1.72: AS08-16-2637. High quality source here: AFJ

Figure 4.1.73: ESSA-7 image compared with AS08-16-2637 and Stellarium estimate of time at terminator.

Stellarium estimates the terminator (based on the position of Australia) at 05:30 on the 27th, and the blue, yellow, red and purple arrows point to weather systems visible on the other images of the Pacific shown previously. The blue arrow in particular points to a swirl of cloud that can be seen progressing from west to east in figure 4.1.56. On the opposite horizon, the magenta and green arrows identify weather patterns that have been a common feature over Australia, but will be discussed in more details when the continent is more squarely in the frame.

ESSA's orbit is somewhere between track 6 and 7 for the terminator line, which is around 01:02 for the earlier of the two (orbit 1660).

The next two sets of images (represented by AS08-16-2647 & 2650) show Australia gradually progressing westwards, and these are shown in figure 4.1.60 to illustrate their connection with the final image that will be analysed, where Australia occupies the same position as other images throughout the mission. AS08-16-2658 is shown in figure 4.1.74, and analysed in figure 4.1.75.

Figure 4.1.74: AS08-16-2647  original and zoomed (far left and left, high quality source here: AFJ) and AS08-26-2650 original and zoomed (right and far right, high quality source here:  AFJ)

Figure 4.1.75: AS08-16-2658. High quality source here: AFJ

Figure 4.1.76: ESSA-7 image compared with AS08-16-2658 and Stellarium estimate of time at terminator.

For what is probably the final photograph taken on the mission, we have the return of a familiar view, and a continuing evolution of the weather systems around Australia. The elongated curl of cloud that was west of Australia has continued its eastward progression from South Africa and now lies mostly to the south of the continent (blue arrow). The plume of cloud (cyan arrow) has also moved eastward, and what was two separate plumes is now much more consolidated.

The long, broad band of cloud above Australia (yellow arrow) still extends over the equator and still curls round to the east coast, but has now joined with a small area of cloud that was over the Melbourne area. In short, all of the images of Australia show a consistent development of weather patterns over time, and in order to assist in the reader's recollection, this development is shown below in figure 4.1.77. This development is matched by the satellite record.

Figure 4.1.77: AS08-15-2535 (left) AS08-15-2554 (centre left) AS08-15-2562 (centre right) and AS08-16-2658 (right) zoomed and cropped to Australia.


To complete this section covering still images, ESSA's orbit covering the Australia terminator is track 8, orbit number 1662, which was commenced at 05:05. This compared with Stellarium's estimate of the time for the image of around 08:00.

Having dealt with the astronauts’ still photography, it is now time to look at what other media are available for comparison.

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Figure 4.1.68: ESSA-7 (left) and ATS-1 (right) images compared with AS08-16-2619 and Stellarium estimate of time at terminator.

Figure 4.1.70: ESSA-7 (left) and ATS-1 (right) images compared with AS08-16-2626 and Stellarium estimate of time at terminator.

The next still image in this time sequence is AS08-15-2576. It is shown below in figure 4.1.64 and analysed in figure 4.1.65.

Figure 4.1.61 Montage of screenshots from 16mm footage compared with ESSA satellite mosaics dated 26/12/68, with Stellarium indication at Earth at time of filming.

The weather systems are evidently those shown in the ESSA image, but how can we be certain that the image was taken at 16:55 on the 26th, particularly as the most reliable indicator of time (the terminator) is obscured? We can get an approximate timeframe for the image by comparing it with figure 4.1.59 (AS08-15-2574)  has been determined as 16:00, as we can see the same weather systems identified in it.

This gives us a good start, but more reliable still is the mission report and mission transcript.

"For this flight, a special adapter allowed the 16mm sequence camera to be attached to the command module sextant"

allowing for colour filming.

"During transearth coast, sextant photographs were taken of the Moon at about 123 hours and of the Earth at 124 hours. Although the range is too great for accurate horizon analysis, the appearance of the Earth through the red tinting of the landmark line of sight should be an effective familiarisation aid for future crews."

The video footage immediately before the Earth shot is of a reddish tinted Moon, there is a reddish cast to the Earth in the montage, and the circular border would be that of the sextant. The exact timing, and the time used in the Stellarium image, is confirmed in the transcript. At 5d4h4m, or 124:04 hours MET, or 16:55, we get the following comment in response to a request from Capcom to change the CSM orientation:

124:04:16 Borman: That's fine. We are going to stay in for about two more seconds while Jim takes the pictures through the sextant for the optics people.


Is the time correct? The answer is obvious from the landmasses visible in the montage. South America is in shot on the western limb, with the Pacific ocean off Chile just discernible west of the cloud mass arrowed in green. The west coast of north Africa is just visible on the eastern edge of the picture, but the remainder of the continent (and the terminator) are hidden by the sextant’s edge.

The next views of Earth mark a return to TV.

The second TV broadcast examined here is the 6th TV transmission, which started at 20:36 on the 26th, some 3 hours after the ESSA track was taken.  The ESSA image is presented with a screenshot from that broadcast in figure 4.1.62a. 4.1.62b shows wire images for the press that clearly identify the date of transmission. Figure 4.1.62c shows a Washington Post front page dated the following day.

Figure 4.1.62a: ESSA-7 image from 26/12/68 compared with TV broadcast from the same date.

Figure 4.1.62c: Washington Post front page dated December 27th.


The press images are centred on South America, and there is a clearly defined band of cloud along the east coast. The upper left of the image is North America, most of which is obscured by clouds.

The terminator line is just crossing Brazil, and Stellarium confirms that this is exactly where the terminator should be (figure 4.1.63).

Figure 4.1.63: Stellarium indication of time at terminator

While the TV screenshot is not as sharp as the Apollo photographs, and much of the ESSA clouds are not as clearly visible as those on Earth, it is still possible to discern unique systems that mark it out as having been taken specifically on the 26th, notably a small system off the coast of New York (identified with the blue marker) that is not there on the 25th.

Figure 4.1.62b: Press wire photograph from 26/12/68 showing TV image from the last TV broadcast (Image is from eBay, copyrighted Historic Images) together with my personal copy of the same image. Both images are upside down.