4.4 Apollo 12

Despite launching only 5 months after arguably the most historic event in history, Apollo 12 is remarkable for being almost forgotten in the grand scheme of human achievement, and in popular memory it has neither the excitement and hope of Apollo 11 nor the drama of Apollo 13. Politically, Apollo was already being shaved back (missions had actually been cancelled before Apollo 11 had even taken off), and many people began to hold the view that there were more important and pressing problems on the home planet that could use the money being spent on the Apollo programme. After all, we had “been there, done that”. We'd made our point, why go again?

It did, however, have the claim to fame of being the first mission to have a pinpoint landing. While Apollo 11 had a landing area within which the crew wanted to set down, the trajectories for Apollo 12 were calculated to put the LM in a very specific spot, something they achieved with sufficient skill and precision to allow them to rendezvous with a much earlier NASA experiment, the Surveyor III craft, which had landed in 1967 in a partially successful mission to sample & photograph lunar soil.

The Saturn V launched at 16:22 on 14/11/69, landing on the moon on 19/11/69. The crew stayed on the surface for 31.5 hours, re-uniting with the CSM on the 20th, and finally splashing down on the 24th.

The mission's main claims to fame are being hit by lightning at launch, and the failure of the colour TV camera, which was burnt out almost as soon as it was set up on the Moon by being pointed directly at the sun. This forced the US TV networks to hire actors on a set to perform the astronaut's roles to the recorded voices of the crew. It's ironic that while many accuse Apollo 11's lunar surface broadcasts of being performed by actors on a set, Apollo 12's actually were (figure 4.4.1).

Figure 4.4.1: Apollo 12 TV broadcast showing the acting out of mission audio. The video is obviously in a studio and bears no resemblance to the mission photographs. Source

They did, however, manage to take still images. During the mission they used 14 magazines of film to take 2119 images, the bulk of which are of the lunar surface (either from orbit or from the ground). Relatively few photographs exist of Earth once out of Earth orbit, and because of the mission's timing, significant numbers of these are of a crescent globe – much less of the surface is visible than in previous Apollo missions.

These photographs are available at the ALSJ & AIA, but for several the images used show an overexposed Earth. Where necessary, images have been obtained from the Gateway to Astronaut Earth Photography (GAP). Some high quality TIFF images are available at http://archive.org. TV screen captures will be used where available (see figure 4.4.1 for sample source).

As with Apollo 11, 3 satellites are available for comparison with these still images: ATS-3, Nimbus-3, and ESSA-9. ATS-3 images for the period covering Apollo 12 are in this document. NIMBUS-3 images can be found here: Source, and ESSA 9 here: Source. The same NIMBUS data recovery project that provided new images for Apollo 11 also furnished new photographs for Apollo 12, and they will be added where appropriate. High resolution strips from the NIMBUS-3 HRIR are also available, again from sources cited for Apollo 10 and 11.

There are also isolated examples of close-ups from these satellites, which allows better quality. This document contains a close up NIMBUS image of the Sahara desert from November 18th Best of NIMBUS, and this one shows a close up of New Zealand, also from November 18th and also from NIMBUS, New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research . The Mariners Weather Log from January 1970 (Volume 14, Number 1) contains a more detailed image from ESSA of North America on the 21st of November Source) showing Hurricane Martha over Panama. An ATS-3 image is also included here. An image from landing day in this 1973 publication. As with other missions, all these images have been freely available in one form or another since they were taken, and if possible they will be included in the analysis here, proven yet again by the NIMBUS images taken during the mission shown in this publication.

Now that some sort of context has been established, we can progress to looking at the photographs.

4.4.1 Satellite Imagery

Given the issues with the TV camera it’s ironic that some of the first images of Earth were made in a TV broadcast. According to the timeline the broadcast started at 19:45 and continued until 20:50, and there is a copy of this broadcast available on youtube (from the same source as figure 4.4.1). A screenshot from this broadcast is given in figure 4.4.1a, together with satellite comparisons.

While the quality is relatively poor, it's clear that this live broadcast is showing the same features as the satellite images, and also that it could not be a re-transmission of ATS-3's image as there is insufficient coverage of the northern hemisphere by it. The time on the screenshot appears to be mission elapsed time, as was common on ABC broadcasts.

Figure 4.4.3: AS12-50-7331. Source given in text.

Figure 4.4.4a: Main image - AS12-50-7331 compared with ESSA-9 (top left), NIMBUS-3 (centre left) and ATS-3 (centre right). Bottom left are NIMBUS HRIR strips and bottom right is a 3D reconstruction using digitally restored ESSA data.

Left is a Stellarium estimate of time at terminator.

Immediately prior to this, there are several frames showing the SIV-B with the exposed LM visible. The timeline for the mission (Source) shows that separation of the CSM from the SIV-B occurred at 19:40, docking with the LM at 19:48 on the 14th. This gives a pretty precise window for when this photograph (and numerous others at various zoom extents before docking). must have been taken. Immediately after it are photographs showing an empty SIV-B, recorded in the timeline as photography of the now defunct stae venting gas. That photography is timed at 20:41, compared with CSM separation at 19:40, so it seems reasonable to assume that this photograph was taken at some time between the two. A close examination of the TV image suggests that the band of cloud identified by the red arrow is somewhat longer than in the Apollo image, so I have erred on the side of caution and put the time nearer to the venting photography.

The crew took Earth images over quite some time - sufficient for Earth to rotate underneath them, as can be seen by comparing two images showing the terminator - AS10-50-7331 and the last in this sequence of photographs, AS10-50-7358 (figure 4.4.4b).

Figure 4.4.5:  AS12-50-7354. High quality source: AIA

The Stellarium estimate of time based on the terminator line is difficult for this image, as no land masses are visible, but using the assumption that the weather system identified by the blue arrow borders the west coast of the USA, an estimate of 01:00 on the 15th has been derived. The satellite images used are still those of the 14th, as these are the nearest in time to that. The Apollo image is definitely from the early hours of the 15th rather than the early hours of the 16th, as the weather system picked out in blue has changed considerably by then.

The ATS image has been included, but as should be obvious from the preceding page, only one fragment of a weather system shown in the Apollo image is visible in it (identified by the purple coloured arrow). This completely eliminates ATS-3 from any suggestion that it was involved in producing at least this image! The system picked out by the yellow arrow is just visible in figure 4.4.3 slightly to the left of the blue arrow on the Apollo image. This latter system, and the cloud whorl in the southern hemisphere, are obviously visible in the satellite images.

NIMBUS' orbits covering the Pacific area in the image are 2876/2877, and these are shown as starting at 19:53 & 21:34 on the 14th respectively. The NIMBUS tile showing the clouds picked out by the magenta arrow was taken at 21:06. ESSA's corresponding orbit would be 3267 (track 5), which commenced at 21:01. Again there is a good five hour gap between the satellite and Apollo images. As with the previous example, this time difference means that some of the weather systems have evolved by the time that the Apollo image is taken. The cloud pattern identified by the green arrow, for example, has moved some distance eastwards to a position more directly below that picked out by the blue arrow, and the red arrowed cloud has also moved much closer to the blue arrowed systems. The same weather systems but evolved into a slightly different configuration by the time the Apollo image is taken, and further indication that the Apollo image is not a straight copy of a satellite photograph.

Again, the crew discuss what they can see on the image, this time Alan Bean says at 08:23 MET (or around 00:45 on the 15th, during inspection of the LM):

“I can't see any landmass at all. All I can see is water with lots of clouds, and I can see sort of a glare point on the Earth. I think that must be the zero phase point to us. Other than that, it's very, very bright. And another interesting thing is, on the dark side, you cannot see where the Earth stops and space begins. It's unlike the Moon at night on in the daytime where you can see it in earthshine. You just can't see anything.”

The glare point is very evident, at about 9 o'clock on the Earth, and the absolute blackness of the night side is also obvious from the Apollo image. The 'zero phase point' is a point that won't change on the surface regardless of perspective because it is the light from the sun, and the sun is not going to change position.

A few frames later in magazine 50, after a couple of partial disk zoomed photographs, there are a few more full disk images, and again time has moved on slightly from the previous image. The first of this sequence is AS12-50-7362 (AIA), shown in figure 4.4.7. The main source of interest from this image is that Australia (and many other parts of Australasia) is visible beneath the clouds, and the shadows cast by the clouds. There are several large clouds that show very obvious shadows on the ocean below them, giving a third dimension to the images that the satellite photographs lack. Figure 4.4.8 shows the satellite comparisons.

Figure 4.4.7: AS12-50-7362. High quality source: AIA

Figure 4.4.8: Main image - AS12-50-7362 compared with ESSA-9 (left) & NIMBUS-3 HRIR (right) images. Above is a Stellarium estimate of time at terminator, left is a 3D reconsrtruction using digitally restored ESSA data.

Stellarium suggests a time of 03:00 for the picture, and the yellow arrow on the figures point to a system that is only visible on the 15th – on other days that part of Australia is clear. The NIMBUS part of the satellite images consists of orbit 2878-80 of the daylight IR passes, which are given over images labelled the 14th and 15th. Orbit 2878 started at 22:38 on the 14th and 2880 at 02:13 on the 15th. ESSA's most representative orbit for the area covered is number 3268 (track 6) which commenced at 23:07 on the 14th . On the subject of Australia, the astronauts again discuss what they can see with Capcom. At 12:53 MET (or 05:15 on the 15th) the crew give the following message:

“Okay, Houston. We've got Australia.... in sight now at the - oh, it's about the 8 o'clock position, with respect to the terminator...There's a lot of clouds out there, Houston. I can see a lot of fairly small clouds, but there is so darn much cloud cover out in the Pacific, except right off the north-east coast of Australia that I really haven't found any islands yet.”

The astronauts are obviously describing what can be seen in the Apollo image, but the timings of these transmissions again call into question the Stellarium evidence. A closer look at the Stellarium terminator shows it is convex in relation to the daylight limb – it bulges away from it. The Apollo image shows a concave terminator – it bulges towards the daylight limb. Why the difference?

The answer again lies in the relative position of Apollo 12 in relation to the Earth and the Moon. Apollo 12 is on a course that is pointing at where the moon will be in 4 days’ time – the 18th, when it will enter lunar orbit. If the perspective of the Apollo 12 landing site is changed to that of the 18th, then it is obvious that the Earth assumes a more crescent profile (figure 4.4.9).  Australia's appearance on the western horizon also changes from around 03:00 to more like 05:15, and the timing of the photograph more akin to 06:00 on the 15th.

What figure 4.4.9 shows is that, while the position of Australia is different in the two views of Earth, the distance to the terminator is the same. The terminator is actually at roughly 170 degrees East, but for ease of interpretation the reader can use the anti-meridian of 180 degrees (the bright yellow line running north to south). If the photograph was actually taken 3 hours earlier, the distance to the terminator would be much greater.

The explanation, therefore, for the difference in the time for Stellarium is not some discrepancy in when the photograph was taken, but in Stellarium's assumption of where it was taken from. Apollo 12 was pointed in a more or less straight line to where the Moon would be at LOI on the 18th, and therefore using the Moon's location on the 15th to check the timings causes this discrepancy. Stellarium's data are correct, it is the perspective of the view that isn't quite right.

Conspiracy theorists can make of that what they will, but it is an honest interpretation of the facts that don't initially make sense until they are examined properly. This feature is something that is consistent across every mission: Stellarium views at the start and end of missions that differ from the Apollo version, but lunar based images that match exactly - it’s even more proof that the Apollo photographs are genuine.

As the CSM gets nearer the Moon this discrepancy will become less obvious, and the next image is a little closer.

AS12-50-7367 is shown in figure 4.4.10 and is the last image taken before several photographs of a fouled hatch window, and Earth appears much smaller in the viewfinder now. The satellite comparison is shown in figure 4.4.11.

Figure 4.4.10: AS12-50-7367. High quality source: AIA

Figure 4.4.11: Main image shows ESSA-9 (left) and NIMBUS-3 (right) images in comparison with AS12-50-7367. In the centre are NIMBUS HRIR passes (left) and 3D reconstructions using digitally restored ESSA (centre) and NIMBUS (right) satellite data. On the bottom row are an individual NIMBUS 3 tile and a close up of the same area on the Apollo image, identified by the magenta arrow. Left is a Stellarium estimate of time at terminator.

The photographs of the fouled hatch were taken sometime after 02:15 GMT, as this is the time that (according to the mission transcript) instructions on how best to photograph the windows were supplied by Capcom. They were first described to Capcom on the previous day, but are gone over in more detail half an hour prior to the photography instructions, so we have a latest time for the photographs of around 01:45.

We also have descriptions from the crew of the terminator crossing Florida (although they do describe difficulties in determining land features) at around midnight GMT on the 16th, so we have a time for the photograph already of somewhere between those two. Stellarium has been set at 01:00 on the basis that no land masses are easily visible in the Apollo image.

Assuming a terminator line just off the west coast of north America, this would mean that the best ESSA orbit corresponding to that would be orbit 3280 (track 5), which commenced at 22:00 on the 15th. The equivalent NIMBUS pass is number 2889, which commenced at 18:18 on the 15th. The magenta arrow points to a cloud system imaged at 20:22 on the 15th, which is also shown in the image and matches exactly the NIMBUS tile.

The next image to be examined is AS12-50-7377 and is shown in figure 4.4.12. It appears after the photographs of a fouled hatch window, which again gives us the starting point for working out when it was taken, and Earth appears much smaller in the viewfinder now. The satellite comparison is shown in figure 4.4.13.

Figure 4.4.12: AS12-50-7377. High quality source: AIA. Horizontal line is a fault on the original scan

Figure 4.4.13: Main image - AS12-50-7377 compared with ESSA (left top & bottom). Below this is a 3D reconstrution of digitally restored ESSA data (left) and NIMBUS HRIR (right). Bottom are NIMBUS daytime IR strips (left) and Stellarium estimate of time at terminator (right).

The NIMBUS data in the preceding image is night time infra-red, which has the only complete coverage of that part of the globe on that date. The orbit that best represents the terminator here is number 2897, which commenced at 10:28 GMT on the 16th. Shown above for comparison are the two passes of daylight HRIR available, and the pass that ends at north Australia started at 01:56.

As for ESSA, the Apollo image terminator is mostly covered by track 6, or orbit number 3281. This pass was commenced on the 16th at 00:05 and appears on the image dated the 15th. 

These compare favourably with Stellarium's time estimate of 03:30 using the position of Australia as a guide, but as indicated earlier, this figure may be out by a couple of hours because of the difference in perspective between Stellarium and Apollo 12. If a terminator line along the central Pacific is used as a guide (something that seems to be confirmed by the position of the cyan and red arrowed clouds), 05:30 may be a more representative time. 

The date of the 16th can be confirmed convincingly by the weather pattern over south-eastern Australia, which does not appear in that configuration on any other date, and is a clear development of the system identified by the purple and magenta arrows in figure 4.4.8. The next set of Earth photographs is a series of 4 showing the same view, and the first of these, AS12-50-7381, has been selected from this batch for comparison with the satellite images.

It is shown below in figure 4.4.14, and analysed in figure 4.4.15.

Figure 4.4.14: AS12-50-7381. High quality source here: AIA

Figure 4.4.15: Main image - ESSA-9 (left) images compared with AS12-50-5381. Below this are NIMBUS-3 HRIR (left) and 3D reconstructions using digitally restored ESSA (centre) and NIMBUS 3 (right) satellite data. Bottom are day time HRIR images (right), with Stellarium estimate of time at terminator (above).

The distinctive plume of cloud below Australia (marked by the yellow and magenta arrows) has moved much closer to the terminator than in the previous analysis, which allows a more precise estimate of the time of the image. Stellarium puts this photograph as being taken at around 07:00 GMT.As with the previous image, the night time infra-red image has been used for NIMBUS coverage, as this has the best data for the region on that date.. It does mean that, as before, the cloud patterns visible on the NIMBUS mosaic are a reflection of the thermal conditions of the atmosphere, rather than what can actually be seen.

The NIMBUS orbit nearest the terminator is number 2897, which was started at 09:50 on the 16th. ESSA's terminator orbit is number 3283 (track 8), which commenced at 04:06 on the 16th.

A few images later in magazine 50 there is a short sequence of images that can be identified by the cloud patterns as somewhere east of Australia. This automatically puts it almost a day after the previous image. Figure 4.4.16 shows AS12-50-7385, and figure 4.4.17 the satellite comparison.

Figure 4.4.16: AS12-50-7385. High quality source: AIA

Figure 4.4.17: Main image shows AS12-50-7385 compared ESSA-9. Below are NIMBUS-3 IDCS (right) and HRIR (right) images. Bottom row are 3D reconstructions using digitally restored ESSA (left) and NIMBUS-3 (centre) satellite data and Stellarium estimate of time at terminator (right).

With no land masses present, the only time reference available to us is the terminator cutting across the large cloud bank in the southern Pacific, and the time works out at somewhere around 02:00 on the 17th. This estimate would put the mission time at around 57:00. A couple of hours earlier they were discussing weather conditions on the west coast of the USA, including mention of

 “a nice crescent-shaped large weather system that appears to be several hundred miles out to sea”

but it’s difficult to tell which system he’s referring to here.

Also noticeable when comparing the Apollo image and Stellarium terminator lines is that now that Apollo 12 & the Moon are considerably closer together, and the position of the lunar viewpoint nears the point that Apollo 12 is aiming for, the shape of the terminator and the amount of the Earth's disk lit by the sun are becoming more similar.

NIMBUS' daylight visible spectrum view over the east coast of south America would be from orbit 2916, which commenced at 20:06 on the 17th. Depending on how accurate our estimate of the time is the NIMBUS coverage on the 16th could be closer to it time by a couple of hours, but the coverage provided by that day’s picture is not as good.

ESSA's best fit pass for the same area is orbit 3289 (track 6) 23:09 on the 16th. Once again, an Apollo image shows weather patterns that are only visible at a specific time on a specific day.

The next series of Earth photographs occur immediately before two images of a distant lunar far side of the moon as Apollo 12 approaches LOI. That photograph is shown in figure 4.4.18, and analysed overleaf in figure 4.4.19.

Figure 4.4.18: AS12-50-7388. High quality source: AIA

Figure 4.4.19: Main image shows ESSA-9 (left) compared with AS12-50-5788. Below that it is NIMBUS-3 IDCS (left) and HRIR (centre), and 3D reconstruction using digitally restored ESSA data (right). Stellarium estimate of time at terminator to left.

Around 24 hours since the last view of Australia and there is again a change in the configuration of the large frontal cloud mass south of Australia that extends up from the Antarctic (magenta arrow). The two distinct branches of the plume have gone, and smaller lobes extend off into the Australian interior than was the case the previous day. Australia is just visible on the western limb, and this puts the time of the image at around 04:30 on the 17th. The red and crimson arrows match figure 4.4.17.

ESSA's orbit nearest the terminator is 3293 (track 6), which commenced at 23:09 on the 16th. Australia itself would not have been imaged completely until 05:05 on the 17th (track 9, orbit 3296). NIMBUS is even further behind, at least for the visible spectrum images, which covered the terminator at 19:25 (pass 2903) on the 16th, putting the NIMBUS satellite some 10 hours behind the Apollo 1. This would help to explain the discrepancies in some areas between the cloud patterns that are easily identifiable on the Apollo and ESSA images, but not the NIMBUS ones (eg the blue and green arrows). Night time infra-red images did cover the area nearer the time (around 03:00 on the 17th), but the quality of the image is much poorer, so little would have been gained in examining it.

The next few frames show a gradual change in the view beneath the CSM (AS12-50-7388 for example shows Australia just appearing on the western horizon) as it rotates from the 16th towards the 17th of November and ever closer to LOI.

In AS12-50-7391 Australia is very obvious, which makes it an obvious candidate for comparison with satellite images. Figure 4.4.20 shows the Apollo image, and 4.4.21 shows the satellite comparison.

Figure 4.4.20: AS12-50-7391. High quality source: AIA

Figure 4.4.21: Main image shows AS12-50-7391 compared with ESSA-9 (top & bottom left). Below this is NIMBUS-3 IDCS (left) and HRIR (right). Left are 3D reconstructions of digitally restored ESSA (lfar left) and NIMBUS (left) satellite data. Stellarium estimate of time at terminator is above.

The position of the terminator on the very edge of eastern Australia puts the time of the Apollo image at around 08:15.

What decides the date of this image is the large pointed weather system off western Australia (picked out by magenta and yellow arrows on the satellite images. ATS-3 does not cover this part of the globe, so we are restricted to NIMBUS & ESSA for our image supply. The system off western Australia does appear on the visible spectrum NIMBUS image, but this does not show the areas north of Australia, and for this reason the daylight infra-red image has been used, which does show it. The NIMBUS pass over Australia is 2907, which commenced at 03:24 on the 17th, giving it a few hours head start on the Apollo image. The system in question was imaged by NIMBUS at around 04:43.ESSA's best fit orbit is number 3296 (track 9), which is found on the image dated the 16th, but was actually started on November 17th at 05:05.

We get additional confirmation of the time from a TV broadcast made on the 17th between 07:14 and 08:10. While the broadcast was being sent through Goldstone in California, Australia got the show live through their own receiving stations, and the crew confirm that Australia is centre stage:

063:32:34 Conrad: Was the picture of the Earth any good?

063:34:29 Conrad: That landmass you're looking at there is Australia.

063:34:51 Carr: 12, Houston. The word is Australia is getting your TV show live.

We can have a quick look at a still from that TV broadcast in figure 4.4.22, with the same features from 4.4.21 identified:

Figure 4.4.23: The Moon as seen from Apollo 12 shown in AS12-50-7389 compared with Stellarium's view from Earth at approximately the same time. The red arrow identifies the same crater, and the Moon has been rotated to the correct position.

The Apollo Image Atlas identifies this image (and the one following it) as showing the 'far side' and before the CSM's first lunar orbit ('Pre-REV 1').  The latter is definitely true, but at least half of the lunar disk would be visible from Earth. The fact that the other half could not is still significant.

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Figure 4.4.22: Still from youtube video of newscast featuring Earth, and cropped and enhanced version of Earth with features identified as in figure 4.4.21

While the quality is obviously not as clear as the still image, there is sufficient resolution to allow for identification of the same features, with the exception of the band of cloud identified by the yellow arrow in figure 4.4.21. There is insufficient separation of the white area in the TV shot to allow for clear identification of it, so I have left it out.

It is also worth noting that between this and the next sequence of Earth images there are two photographs of the Moon. They are noteworthy because they show the Moon in a completely different phase to that visible from Earth. Figure 4.4.23 shows the Moon from AS12-50-7389 (Source: AIA). The CSM is approaching the Moon on an intercept course that will place it in an east-west orbit (as viewed from Earth), and hence is looking towards the moon from the west, not face on as in the Stellarium view. It’s further evidence that the Apollo craft was not looking at the Moon from a terrestrial perspective.

Figure 4.4.2a: Main image - Rotated screenshot from live TV broadcast compared with ESSA (top left & middle), NIMBUS-3 IDCS (bottom left) and ATS (bottom right). Source given in text. Left are the NIMBUS-3 HRIR strips

A slightly better version of the footage is available from this youtube source, which is a compilation of news footage shown to Vietnam troops. It includes a zoomed view of the north Atlantic, with considerably more detail. It is shown below in figure 4.4.1b, together with the ESSA, ATS-3 and NIMBUS images from the same area.

Figure 4.4.2b: Screenshot from Apollo 12 broadcast on 14/11/69 (source given in text) with ESSA view (top right) and NIMBUS-3 views (below left and centre) and ATS-3 (below right) from the same date.

Particularly noticeable in this better quality shot is the band of cloud extending across Mexico, as well as the thin ‘V’ shaped stream of cloud to the south of this, and a similar thin band of cloud along the Mexican Pacific coast. NIMBUS IDCS tile was taken on day 318 (November 14th) at 17:56 – 2 hours before the broadcast. We’ll look at the timings in more detail in the next image, for reasons which will become obvious.

As in previous missions, the Astronauts communicated their own observations to Capcom of the weather conditions on the ground (these are recorded in the technical air to ground transcripts, available here: ALSJ).

At 3:34 MET Dick Gordon says:

“Okay. You should be looking at the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico; Baja California is in plain sight. It's a pretty nice day down there. In the Gulf, Gulf - The western Gulf of Mexico has a cloud coverage along the coast; looks like it's almost up to Houston. It's south and west of it.”

followed a couple of minutes later by

“Hey, Jer, it's a fantastic sight. The Mississippi Valley has a little bit of cloud coverage coming down from Canada, and there's some in the north - north-east part of the country, up in the New England States. Looks like they may be getting some snow over here in the next day or two. Florida is cut in half by that front that went through this morning. The West Coast looks absolutely gorgeous; Baja California is clear, looks like the San Diego/Los Angeles area to the south and west of them is a little cloud coverage covered. I won't say anything about smog.”

The smog he doesn't want to talk about is the mass of cloud identified by the blue arrow, and Baja California is indeed clear compared with Los Angeles & San Diego. The green arrow points out the system cutting Florida in half, and the cloud systems descending from Canada into the Mississippi are immediately north of that arrow in the preceding figure, and the snow systems over New England are to the east of that. These features aren’t so obvious in the TV, but then you look at the still photographs taken around the same time they most definitely are.

The magazine with the first images taken of Earth is number 50, and the first image approaching a full disk is AS12-50-7331 shown in figure 4.4.3 - the best quality version of which is at the AIA (Source).  A comparison with the relevant satellite images is given in figure 4.4.4a.

Figure 4.4.4b: AS10-50-7331 compared with AS10-50-7358. Green circle identifies the same feature that has disappeared into darkness

Returning to the satellite imagery analysis, the Apollo image has a number of unique features that are easily visible on the satellite photographs, particularly the large 'tick' shaped feature sweeping from the Mexican coast across the Gulf and up the east coast of the USA. The weather patterns either side of the tip of south America are also very distinctive and easy to spot on the satellite images.

The ATS-3 image provides a useful counter-argument to the suggestion that the colour Apollo photographs were somehow derived from the whole disk images provided by the HEO geostationary satellites. While the Apollo image used shows the Earth taking up a substantial portion of the image, other photographs taken at the same time show a much smaller globe, demonstrating that the Apollo craft was much further out than the ATS satellites. The portion of the Earth shown by Apollo is not matched by the ATS-3 image – it is over a different part of the Earth & at a different angle. ATS-1 was stationed over the Pacific, only a small part of which is seen in the Apollo image.

As far as timings are concerned, the ATS image was taken at 14:25. The NIMBUS orbit closest to the terminator would be number 2873, which was started at 14:14. ESSA's image is more difficult to interpret, as unlike previous missions the orbits that comprise the image dated the 14th are not given. However, the track covering the terminator area would be track 2. For an image dated the 14th this would correspond to orbit 3264, which was commenced at 16:06. As the Stellarium terminator suggests that the time for the image derived from the Apollo timeline is entirely reasonable, these figures suggest, at most, an elapsed time of about 5 hours between the ATS image and the Apollo one. This five hours is sufficient for the cloud system highlighted by the yellow arrow to move from the centre of the tip of south America in the ATS image to nearer the east coast in Apollo. This and many other features show that the overall similarity of the images belies a wealth of subtle differences, demonstrating that while all the images show the same thing, they are not identical replicas.

As mentioned, the sequence of photographs around docking continues until AS12-50-7353, before which are images of a now empty SIV-B shell, confirming the timing of the earlier image. AS12-50-7354 shows a slightly different view of Earth, and the satellite images should show that this is the same Earth photographed in the previous image, just rotated further around. Figure 4.4.5 shows the Apollo photograph, and 4.4.6 the satellite comparisons.

Figure 4.4.6: Main image shows AS12-50-7354 compared with ESSA (top left), NIMBUS-3 IDCS (centre left) and ATS (centre right), HRIR NIMBUs strips (bottom left), 3d Reconstructions of digitally restored ESSA (bottom centre) and NIMBUS (bottom right) satellite data. Stellarium estimate of time (left). Blue & purple arrows match those in figure 4.4.2.

Figure 4.4.9: Views of Earth from the Apollo 12 landing site at 06:00 on 15/11/69 and 18/11/69. Google Earth comparisons indicate the distance to terminator (170 degrees East) from Australia.