4.9 Apollo 17
Apollo 17 was launched at 05:33 on 07/12/72, the only night launch of the Apollo series. It performed LOI at 19:47 on the 10th. The last two astronauts to walk on the lunar surface, Gene Cernan (who also took part in Apollo 10's rehearsal mission) and Jack Schmitt (the only scientist to walk on the moon) landed at 19:55 on the 11th. The lunar surface was departed for the final time at 22:55 on the 14th, and the crew finally landed back on Earth on the 19th. The timeline for the mission can be found here: NASA timeline.
During the journey, and the three EVAs of the lunar landing, 23 magazines of film exposed 3584 photographs, the majority of these being sequences on board the LRV used in exploring the surface. Eight magazines containing 404 images were also taken using a Nikon 35mm camera. The mapping camera contained one sequence showing an Earthrise. The majority of the images are available in high quality at the AIA and/or ALSJ sites, but some have had to be requested from GAP. Archive.org also contains some high resolution scans of the more famous images. Video footage will also be used, and referenced as appropriate, including stills from the 16mm footage.
There is a change in satellite for this mission, with NOAA 2 being the main source of information. The meteorological data catalogue for the mission can be found here: Hathitrust source. This satellite provides images in the visible and infra-
Surprisingly, there are very few other sources for satellite data for this mission, despite other countries launching their own missions. NIMBUS 5 data became available for the latter part of the mission but is of little use. One instrument on board (the Electrically Scanning Microwave Radiometer, which measured microwave radiation from the Earth’s surface) did have data covering images on the lunar surface but as will be seen later are difficult to interpret. Those data can be found here. Other satellites do not have a comprehensive data catalogue. As usual, however, there are other individual sources that may prove useful, and at least demonstrate (again) that the satellite images were readily available.
Satellite activities of NOAA 1972, for example, contains images from December 7th, 11th and 18th, all covering small areas of the north-
Therese can also be seen on December 6th in a couple of places, notably the MWL and the Annual Typhoon Report, and while these are from before the launch, they are interesting in that they come from the DAPP satellite. This journal article has some sections of ATS-
One ESSA image has been found, thanks to an Army veterans' site covering life on Midway Island. The ESSA 8 image is clearly identified as being from December 11th 1972, but no other details are available – the image was sent to the website for posting, and the site owner has no further details about it.
We also have for the first time images taken by NASA’s Landsat satellite. Landsat 1 (originally named Earth Resources Technology Satellite 1) was launched in July 1972 not to observe the weather but to examine terrestrial resources and land-
As with previous missions, digitally recovered satellite data is available and will be used where possible.
The general procedures for any Apollo launch are the same: launch, orbit, TLI, LM extraction. The LM's extraction and docking with the CSM was usually filmed, and sometimes as part of that filming other shots were recorded. One such shot is given in this recording from Apollo 17: Youtube (this can also be found as a real media file on the Apollo Archive multimedia section). The footage features the camera rolling over the Earth's surface before it goes on to focus on the SIV-
By taking several screenshots from this footage, it is possible to see, if not a complete disk, at least a full north to south pan. This pan can be seen in figure 4.9.0, together with a satellite image taken on the same day as the launch.
Figure 4.9.0: Screenshots of video from Apollo 17 compared with December 7th NOAA 2 mosaics, with 3D reconstruction using digitally restored data.
Before looking at the weather patterns there, it's worth looking at the quality of the images themselves. The lower frame of the Earth image created from the video screenshots is considerably darker than the other three, and this is probably a result of the camera adjusting to the light conditions. Despite the difference, the video as a whole is still a single piece of unedited footage. The globe is completely lit, which is what would be expected from 09:15 GMT – the separation time for the SIV-
The second observation is that the NOAA image has evidently suffered some of the image stability issues discussed in preceding sections, particularly off the west African coast. This problem unfortunately obscures an extremely prominent cloud just off South Africa.
The weather system to the east of the system identified by the cyan arrow also looks to have had problems with data interpretation from the satellite image. Lines can be made out running up through southern Africa, and the angle of some of the clouds is not consistent with the overall pattern. Some of the clouds off the eastern South Africa coast, for example, seem to belong to the outer edges of the large sub-
Despite the quality issues in the satellite photo, there are still obvious features that occur in the Apollo video and in the satellite image.
The large whorl of cloud south west of the Cape is very evident, as is the finger of cloud extending from the Antarctic near the coast of South America. The broken clouds across all of southern Africa show the same distribution on both images, as does the small area of localised cloud north of Madagascar.
The time of the Apollo video has already been established at around 09:15, and NOAA's image is recorded as being 06:48 GMT for the east coast of Africa, and 10:48 for the mid-
At about the same time as filming the separation, still images were being taken (as evidenced by the cloud of debris in the photographs, and it is these images that allow a good comparison with the first set of Landsat passes. We have two available to start with, one over the Red Sea into Eritrea and northern Ethiopia, and the across a section of Southern Africa. We have two Apollo images available here, namely AS17-
Figure 4.9.2: AS17-
Figure 4.9.3a: AS17-
The same band of cloud can be seen covering the same area heading towards the coast, almost as if the were there to witness it! The Landsat tile was imaged at 07:19 on the 7th, compared with a time of around 07:35 for the Apollo one.
In the image covering the Red Sea there is the band of cloud between Eritrea and Yemen/Saudi Arabia, as well as a patch of cloud on the edge of the Danakil desert where it meets the sea. Covering the desert area itself is a large area of broken patchy cloud that is exactly matched in the Apollo image.
Also part of this sequence are two other photographs that give us a perfect view of the two Landsat passes, namely AS17-
Figure 4.9.1a: AS17-
The data from the Landsat images shows that they were taken between 07:00 and 08:00 on the 7th, giving only around 2-
Figure 4.9.1b: Close up of AS17-
Of the cloud systems picked out, one is worth mentioning in particular as it is often referred to in articles about this image, and that is the compact swirl of cloud over southern India, identified by the cyan arrow. This swirl is in fact a cyclone that started on the 1st of December and lasted until the 8th, causing 80 deaths and considerable damage in the state Tamil Nadu. The storm, also known as the Cuddalore cyclone, is described in detail in this 1974 article in the Indian Journal of Meteorology and Geophysics. It developed from December 1st onwards, and a satellite view from the article taken on the 6th is shown in figure 4.9.3b compared with the cyclone shown in AS17-
Figure 4.9.23c: Areas of AS17-
The areas covered by the single Mexican and Caribbean frames are very small on the Apollo image, and all that can really be said is that they aren’t inconsistent -
There follows quite a gap between the previous image and the next one, largely thanks to the Schmitt, the lunar module pilot, being heavily involved in checking out the LM systems, and this seems a good point to start a new page -
The correspondence between the two sets of photographs is absolutely spot on. The pass over the Indian ocean shows clear blue water between the coast and the wispy clouds to the south, matched exactly by the Apollo photograph. The Antarctica image is interesting because here we are not looking to match cloud formations but ice. The Antarctic ice regime is a constantly shifting pattern of bergs and open water as the coastal ice shelf breaks up in the Antarctic summer. Here we can very easily identify the clear water of the Mawson coast north of the Framnes mountains either side of a headland. It is very obviously the same area of coastline photographed by Apollo and by Landsat. And every single contour of ice and sea can be made out exactly, even down to the markings inland away from the coastal shelf. Oh, and in case anyone wants to claim these images are modern and weren’t public arena before the digital age, they’re wrong -
Next up for analysis is one of the most iconic Apollo images. Actually part of a sequence of Earth photographs, the so called 'Blue Marble' image has been reproduced many times. Students of a certain age (and I am one) undertaking geography studies will remember being asked to identify the various weather system components on the image as part of exam questions. Mine was in 1980, just 8 years after the mission.
Apart from the fact that it is of stunning quality, it also shows the Antarctic region in much more detail than is the norm for Apollo photographs, thanks to the trajectory the CSM was given. The Antarctic is also not a region shown in any great detail on any satellite images – at least not those used in this research, thanks to either the orientation of the geostationary satellites or the techniques used in assembling the geosynchronous mosaics.
Of the many versions of the photograph that could have been chosen, the one used here is AS17-
Figure 4.9.1d: AS17-
Having identified where the image paths are, we can now compare them with the Landsat images themselves in figure 4.9.1e.
Figure 4.9.1e: AS17-
Figure 4.9.4: NOAA image dated 06/12/72 (top left) and 07/12/72 (top right) compared with video screenshots (bottom left) and a section of AS17-
As far as the weather systems are concerned, they are clearly the same overall, but as with other examples in other sections, there are subtle differences accounted for by the time gap between them and not accounted for by the slight difference in perspective. The blue arrowed clouds are further east in the later picture, as is the green arrowed one, which has also merged with an onshore cloud mass. The red arrow points to clouds that have also joined another, more easterly, cloud mass later on. The yellow arrowed clouds have apparently moved little but the clouds either side of them have changed their relative positions. The magenta arrows pick out adjacent strips of cloud that have closed the gap between them.
In going over this small area in fine detail it is possible to find many differences that demonstrate that they are not simply the same photograph treated. It should also be obvious that they do not match the satellite images exactly. The key point here is the comparison with the clouds as they appear over (and to the west of) South Africa, which are imaged at the start of the satellite's day, and those to the east of South Africa, which were imaged nearly 24 hours later. Despite issues with data quality for the 7th, it should be obvious that the cloud mass over the Cape bears a much better resemblance to the NOAA image from the 7th rather than the 6th.
East of the Cape and it starts to become more difficult. A closer look at the full size image shows that the edge of the large white cloud mass ends more or less on a line of longitude just east of Madagascar, while on the image dated the 7th it ends much further to the east. The blue arrow is relatively easy to place, but the yellow and magenta ones are much trickier to locate precisely. It is suggested here that the dashed lines on the NOAA-
Does this mean the satellite images aren't genuine? No, they are as good as they can be given the technology of the time they were produced, and anyone who denies that the clouds you can see in them aren't reflected in the Apollo images needs their lenses checking, they clearly are the same. Does this prove that the Apollo images aren't genuine? No, but it does make it more difficult for people to claim that they are simply faked directly from satellite photographs!
Perhaps the best possible confirmations of the weather from space come from the astronauts themselves. The crew (usually Jack Schmitt) give possibly the longest sequence of descriptions of the Earth's appearance of all the missions, with only the occasional interruption from Capcom with mission related technical information. The conversation starts at 10:48 GMT:
You've got a pretty good size storm over the north -
This is evidently the tropical storm discussed earlier. A few minutes later at 10:51 GMT, there is this contribution:
“Antarctica is what I would call effectively just a solid white cap down on the -
And again a few moments later:
“We've got a -
“And there's one batch of clouds in northern Africa, just a small batch, it looks like it may be up near the -
At 11:02 Schmitt takes over the commentary:
“it must be an awful clear day for the so-
There are another couple of pages of this, including confirmation they had been taking photographs of the view, and it should be evident that they are describing what is in the photograph, and that there is no way they would have known this other than seeing if for themselves, as the satellite evidence would be unavailable for several hours yet.
The next image is again part of the long sequence of photographs of a receding Earth. AS17-
Figure 4.9.5: AS17-
Figure 4.9.6: AS17-
On the face of it the Apollo image is little different to the previous figure analysed, but there are some interesting points to be made. Firstly, the weather system discussed in much detail in preceding pages (identified by the purple arrow) has moved further eastward and is much more in line with the location given on the satellite image than the earlier Apollo photograph.
Secondly, the Earth is now less than a full disk – night is just beginning to fall across Arabia, and the estimate from Stellarium for the terminator is about 13:00.
The large reduction in the amount of Earth visible in such a relatively short time is explained by the third item of significance. During the conversation describing the Earth's weather systems described earlier, Capcom relay a piece of information about the crew's trajectory, saying at 10:59 GMT:
"...shortly you're going to start heading backwards on the Earth here and head back across the Atlantic. That ought to be some sort of a first. You cross the Atlantic twice, going from west to east, and the, now you're going to cross it going from east to west"
So, having started with a path that sped them with the Earth's rotation they now start moving (in relative terms given they are now 20000 miles out) against the rotation.
We already know that the ESSA time over Africa would be early morning on the 7th, and the timing of the Apollo photograph is confirmed by the Schmitt at 7:57 in to the mission (around 13:30) while confirming numbers on the camera magazines, stating that:
“...I just took another set of Earth pictures”
We therefore have another example of photographs that are consistent not only with the weather patterns described by the crew, consistent with satellite images taken at the same time, and also that show a consistency with the mission flight path.
The next photograph in the sequence is taken some time after this one, as it shows the Pacific and Australia. Figure 4.9.7 shows the Apollo photograph, and figure 4.9.8a the satellite analysis.
Figure 4.9.7: AS17-
The visible portion of the globe has shrunk again since the previous image as time passes and the Earth's orientation relative to Apollo 17 changes – certainly Stellarium's visible disk showing Earth as seen from the moon is much larger. The time markings on the satellite suggest a time around the terminator of around 10:40 GMT on the 7th, with Australia being overpassed about 12 hours later. Stellarium's suggested time (based on the absence of land masses other than Australia and the clouds by the terminator) is somewhere around 01:00 on the 8th – roughly 19.5 hours since launch.
The appearance of Australia in the frame is useful in terms of confirming that suggested time of. While no mention is made directly of photography, there is discussion of the Earth's appearance some time before and after midnight (as an Earth scientist, Schmitt was particularly keen to describe what he could see, earning him the description “human weather satellite” from Capcom). At just short of 19 hours (00:30) Capcom tell the crew that:
“...we'll be having a communications handover to Honeysuckle in about a minute and a half”
with Schmitt responding:
“That's great. Next time I look at Earth I'll see what's happening in Australia.”
As communication is by line of sight and Goldstone in California was just about to disappear, Honeysuckle in Australia becomes the next link in the communications chain as it comes into view. Australia is visible in the image, whereas the coast of the USA is not, which suggests a time for the image after that statement. More helpfully for this analysis, he does say at 20 hours (01:30 GMT):
“I took two 5-
Schmitt then gives a lengthy description of what he can see:
“...It looks like there's a very well developed front coming out of the north-
“...that front is going off across to the coast of Australia north of Sidney and largely a little south of Brisbane and -
“Now the north of Antarctica... there is a large cyclone circulation pattern that has its southern extremity right on the edge of the ice shelf. And that -
As before, he describes the scene uncannily accurately, almost as if he was actually looking at it!
At 02:20 GMT, Schmitt says:
“I've been trying to spot tropical storm Teresa [sic], which is is -
The Philippines are only just visible on this image, and Schmitt also refers earlier to the Hawaiian Islands weather, which is further support that he is looking at a scene where Australia has only just become visible.
Tropical storm Therese began life on 30/11/72 and lasted until December 12th, but causing damage to the Philippines and Vietnam on the 3rd and 9th respectively and the introduction to this section provides links to the images of it. This storm becomes more interesting in light of the next couple of images analysed. Before we do that, it’s worth taking a quick look at a set of Landsat images showing the area of the northern coast of Australia’s Northern territory -
Figure 4.9.9: AS17-
Before assessing the photograph, it’s worth drawing your attention to the area over northern Territory shown in figure 4.9.8b. We’ve moved on a few hours since the Landsat image was taken the change in viewing angle allows the comparison to show the very clear match between the two sources (despite the accumulation of more coastal cloud).
As with the preceding image, the first question to settle for figure 4.9.10 is the time at terminator. The Stellarium estimate is given as 04:00, but the Earth as seen from the Moon is obviously still almost full, compared with the three quarters full as seen from Apollo's vantage point. This, combined with a Pacific view, makes defining the line of the terminator much more difficult. How then was the estimate derived?
At the risk of again employing circular logic, the satellite photograph comes in useful here, and it can be seen from that the terminator line cuts along the westernmost edge of the band of cloud identified by the green arrow. The furthest edge of this cloud falls along the 170 degrees West line of longitude (making Hawaii all but invisible to the crew), and by using a combination of Google Earth and the Earthview website, it's possible to determine that the terminator line would follow a line from 30 degrees East of New Zealand (visible at the point of the cyan arrow) up towards the Bering Straits. Australia is slightly over 20 degrees west of New Zealand, and this distance of around 50 degrees gives a time at the terminator of roughly 04:00. To complete the time analysis the time at the terminator on the NOAA image is given as 19:40 GMT.
Having established a rough time for the image, we can now take a look at what is in the image, and what Jack Schmitt has to say about it! Perhaps the most impressive feature is the procession of angular fronts proceeding across the sub-
“...we're starting to be able to see the coast of Asia. The Philippines are wide open today. And the -
This is a fairly good clue that the AS17-
Fortunately for us, we have a few satellite photographs available, as described in the introduction to this section, namely the original NOAA-
Figure 4.9.11: AS17-
The spiral arms of the storm are nicely picked out by all three images, and the long band of cloud trending north-
It is a pity that there are no publicly available photographs from the 8th of December that would tie in more precisely with the Apollo image, but (like the Tamil Nadu cyclone) it is present in the image where it should be.
Cynics will argue that Schmitt (and presumably NASA and ESSA) knew about the storm, and would know that it should be in the photographs. They will probably also argue that Schmitt's apparent inability to see Therese was a pretence, instead of the reality that he was observing the Earth through distant optics. The mission transcript does indicate exactly what information Capcom had to hand, and this will be dealt with shortly.
We can at least attempt to clarify the exact date of the NOAA-
Figure 4.9.12: NOAA2 mosaic segment dated the 6th (left) and 7th (centre) compared with NOAA2 image dated the 7th (right) in the MWL (source given in the introduction to this section).
Figure 4.9.12 illustrates 2 things. Firstly, that the NOAA-
We will return to Jack's hunt for Therese shortly, but first he has other descriptions of what he can see for Capcom. At 22:35 MET he gives a lengthy description of Australasia's weather:
"...I was talking about the circulation patterns around Antarctica. We were looking then at the Indian Ocean, actually, South Atlantic in the Indian Ocean region. And you see the same pattern at about the same latitude, say 60 degrees south, where all the linear cloud patterns which presumable are -
The fronts he describes are those that appear south and then east of Australia in the photograph, with the green arrow identifying the largest of them.
Having briefly gone over Australia and the Antarctic Ocean, he then returns to the search for Therese. In order to help those less familiar with the region, figure 4.9.13 shows an annotated Google Maps page, with the main places mentioned identified.
Figure 4.9.13: Google Maps page showing the Asian Pacific region, with additional annotations identifying locations mentioned in the Apollo 17 mission transcript
He starts the discussion with:
“On that tropical storm that was Theresa...I'm not sure it may be a little south of Guam. Guam may be in trouble with that one.!”
So, while we know exactly where Therese is at this point, Schmitt is still unsure, and is picking out what to him would appear as the largest and most obvious tropical disturbance, rather than Therese's actual location at the end of a longer band of cloud. Capcom, meanwhile, have their own maps and are trying to locate Therese as well, and they respond with:
“It looks like it's just a bit to the west of Manila there -
To which Jack replies
:"...I don't like to argue with you but I think our analysis chart is a little more up to date ...That area you mentioned...is very clear and the centre of the -
We then have the following exchange between Capcom and Schmitt, which reveals interesting information about the weather data held by ground crews supporting the mission:
Capcom: “Okay yes, you're over in the area between Guam and the Carolines, then.”
Schmitt: “Yes, you're probably looking at a -
Capcom: “Yes, that's the one I had for launch date...We'll get a satellite photo and bring it in here in a bit”
Schmitt: “Okay, well, it's -
Capcom: “Okay we'll get in a new prog and compare your estimate there”
Schmitt: “OK, I think that's pretty good -
Capcom: “OK. We'll get a satellite photo and bring it in here in just a bit.”
It appears from this exchange, then, that Capcom are predominantly using synoptic charts for their information, and are looking at relatively old data compared with Schmitt's view. As the main concerns for the weather are mainly with launch day and re-
Briefly mentioning the front over New Zealand (cyan arrow in figure 4.9.10), he then returns to SE Asia:
“...Borneo is very clear today; and, as is the Philippines. And as I mentioned, there's a -
He has now managed focus in on the correct area for Therese, which is lurking at the end of that storm front over Japan. Tropical Storm Sally was a small event that had pretty much died out by the time Apollo 17 launched, and the tropical depression he describes is actually Therese! Capcom can't identify that depression on their current chart (probably because Jack has confused them by mis-
“...As I recall, they had a tropical storm called Sally that went into -
It's worth pointing out that the above conversation took place over 45 minutes after the Apollo photograph under discussion took place, so that while initially the coast of China would have been difficult to make out clearly, it would have moved into view by the time Jack made the comments above. He is, however, managing to pick out areas and their weather conditions accurately, even if the storm that is Theresa is still confusing him! By now it is 23h17m MET and Capcom ask Schmitt about the storm around Guam, to which he responds:
“I see there is this cloud concentration between New Guinea and Guam. The more I look at it the less well developed it appears to me compared to some of the other circulation patterns. it could be just a residual depression from Teresa [sic] that has moved out into that area. it is an isolated, a relatively isolated cloud pattern, fairly small, but apparently fairly dense. But has -
He has therefore managed to identify that the circulation pattern we would expect for a cyclonic storm is absent in the clouds near Guam, but is still sticking to his guns that it is a leftover from the (still active) Therese, despite the very obvious cyclonic pattern he can actually see on the storm that is Therese!
Twenty minutes later, he gets asked about Wake Island, prompted by requests from the ARIA support team based there, to which he responds:
“...around Wake, or in the vicinity of the Kwajaleins and north of Wake, about all you have is a lot of cloudiness although -
The general cloudiness is obvious on the Apollo photograph, although the circulation pattern of the cloud would appear to be more perceived than actual, as it is difficult to pick out with any certainty any rotational evidence other than a slightly arced band on the eastern side of the cloudy area he is describing. The old front moving south-
Capcom then deliver a bombshell to Schmitt:
“..The prog I got in my hand for 3 hour old weather has Theresa located just about in the Manilla area. Did you concur with that, or do you think it passed the -
The 'prog' they refer to indicates that they still don't have an up to date satellite image, and instead are relying on synoptic charts. Jack then responds with:
“Well, I don't -
Schmitt is displaying a classic symptom of confirmation bias, which is ironic because it is something of which conspiracy theorists are routinely guilty: he has made a judgement based on incomplete information, and despite all evidence to the contrary suggesting he is wrong, he is sticking with his original story! He believes Therese to be a spent force, so the obviously active storm he can see can't be Therese! His final comment on the subject for the day is that:
“...that circulation pattern or tropical depression possibly that I saw earlier north of Borneo is now even more strongly developed at the tail end of the front that stretches up towards Japan. And it -
Following this statement, and with a few technical and housekeeping matters, the crew (who have all taken sleeping tablets) have a rest period and Jack's weather forecast service ends for the night, but not before he takes another pair of photographs. He confirms this before the final weather observation cited above, saying at 24:00 MET (05:30 GMT):
“I'll probably take two more pictures before we go to sleep”
After the rest period, Schmitt confirms that he did take two photographs before retiring, and one of those, AS17-
Figure 4.9.14: AS17-
Australia has moved around under the CSM while Jack has been delivering his synoptic sermons and is pretty much directly below them. New Zealand is now equidistant between Australia and the terminator, and this allows a quick determination of the time to be not long after Schmitt said he would take the photograph. The added rotation of the Earth allows a much better view of Theresa, and we can confirm that it is where Capcom think it is, and not where Jack thinks it is, and also that the image mosaic dated the 7th is correct for Therese, and not the one dated the 6th. This can be seen in figure 4.9.15. The full satellite analysis for this image is given in figure 4.9.16a.
Figure 4.9.15: Tropical storm Therese as seen on the NOAA mosaic dated the 7th (left), AS17-
There is little to add to this image, given that we have already had a lengthy description of it from Jack already. It is worth mentioning the obvious rotation of the Earth over time that is entirely consistent with the narrative recorded in the mission transcript. The remnants of the Cuddalore cyclone first identified in AS17-
In the spirit of open reporting, we also have a couple of areas covered by Landsat in this image (Borneo, Burma and Korea), though they are less than revealing in terms of producing any conclusive proof that they show the same thing. Figure 4.9.16b identifies the locations concerned and shows the image comparison.
Figure 4.9.17: AS17-
The first observation that can be made here is that, with increasing distance from Earth (the crew are now over halfway to the Moon), the shape of the visible Earth is becoming much more similar to the view from the Moon as given by Stellarium's terminator estimate. It is also very obvious that Stellarium's predicted terminator line for Jack's stated time for this image of 15:00 is exactly right.
The satellite image suffers the usual problem when viewing Africa of featuring a portion of the image that was actually scanned the following day. The yellow arrowed cloud pattern is one that is further East on the satellite image compared with the Apollo version for that reason. The time at the terminator on the NOAA mosaic is difficult to determine because of that, but an estimate of around 08:00 GMT on the 8th would fit in with the time markings shown on the lines of longitude.
In this mission, if there is a photograph of Earth, our resident meteorologist has observations to make about it, and this image is no exception. At 33:45 MET (or 15:15 on 08/12/72) he observes the following:
“...Africa looks in pretty good shape. There is a -
His most obviously accurate description is of the 'spectacular spiral' in the north Atlantic (green arrow), which is visible very faintly in the NOAA mosaic but is still clearly there. There is indeed cloud cover over what is now Zimbabwe and Zambia just to the north of it. The yellow and cyan arrows pick out the fronts off the Cape and Falklands respectively. The thick cloud over Argentina is identified by the magenta arrow.
Again we have a series of Landsat passes covering the area, figure 4.9.18b shows where they are.
Figure 4.9.19: AS17-
Figure 4.9.20: AS17-
Figure 4.9.21a: AS17-
Figure 4.9.21b: AS17-
Figure 4.9.22: Outline map of the Americas with annotations showing places referred to by the mission transcript.
As far as dating the image is concerned, the Stellarium estimate is again a perfect match for when Schmitt states he took the photographs, and both photographs show the same features, with the Hasselblad's superior zoom lens giving the better detail than the Nikon.
In terms of what can be seen, we may as well let Jack do the talking again. His opening statement at 19:45 GMT is:
“...it looks like there is a fairly strong mass of polar air moving from the southwest up towards Tierra del Fuego. it's mixed with some cloudiness that extends from that area all the way down to the Antarctic ice shelf. But it looks like some pretty good movement patterns from the south-
The developing cyclonic system, and the frontal clouds associated with it are picked out by the magenta arrow. The cyan arrow identifies the clouds running from the east coast to central America. The clouds over Buenos Aires aren't given an arrow, but they are visible south of the system pointed out by the cyan arrow.
Schmitt then moves on to the northern hemisphere:
“...Except for scattered clouds, Central America and Mexico, for the most part, are clear -
His assessment of the central Americas is completely accurate, and despite the fact that the US is 'out on a limb', he makes a good job of that too. The bank of cloud stretching to Nova Scotia is identified by the red arrow, and the clear area in the centre of the USA is obvious without an arrow to find it. It is bounded to the north by a cloud mass shown by the green arrow.
Capcom are able to confirm his observations on their synoptic charts and also on a satellite image, although they are not up to date. The satellite image is probably an ATS-
“weathermen and a lot of other people around here”
At 38h49 MET, or around 20:15 GMT, Schmitt goes back to the southern hemisphere to describe the scene there:
“..there's an axis that runs from, say, the outer portion of the Ross Ice sheet along the -
“...the whole coastline of Chile is, or all of Chile practically, is clear, beautifully exposed to us here, particularly the Atacama desert...and the coast of Peru is also clear with clouds following the Andes ridge, probably the -
The Ross Sea can be found south of New Zealand, and the 'axis' he is describing is really the edge of a bank of cloud running along a rough line of latitude starting from there and ending at the northward trending cloud arrowed in purple. The cloud bands and fronts to which he refers appear to almost 'peel off' this long axial bank of cloud, then double back on themselves. His description is complex, but it does match what is there. This accuracy also extends to the absence of weather patterns over Chile and Peru (although admittedly a lack of clouds over Atacama is no great surprise).
As with previous images we also have several Landsat images to choose from, with varying degrees of usefulness. Figure 4.9.23a shows the areas identified on the Apollo image and Google Earth.
Figure 4.9.8a: AS17-
Figure 4.9.10: AS17-
Figure 4.9.16a: AS17-
Figure 4.9.18a: AS17-
Figure 4.9.3f: Comparison of the Antarctic region of AS17-
Five hours would normally be enough to change cloud patterns recognisably (and if you look carefully at the other areas of the photographs clearly has been), but less so with the ice flows. The only differences readily apparent here are accounted for mostly by viewing angle and focus. Just in case anyone thinks it’s all a bit convenient that these Landsat images are around digitally, well, they’ve been public a long time -
Another comparison possible is of the Apollo still and 16mm images. The two are taken around 90 minutes apart, and if the viewpoint was from a stationary point above the Earth there would be no change in the landmass visible. If it was from a geosynchronous orbit, more of the south American continent would be visible as these go against the rotation of the planet. Instead (this is more obvious in the full size stills), we have more of Asia visible in the later still photograph, which indicates a movement both with and faster than the rotation of the Earth as it travels away from it – launches were in fact arranged that way to capitalise on the momentum this rotation gave the Saturn V.
In comparing this Apollo image with NOAA's mosaic the image chosen has been that dated the 7th of December. However, the bulk of the Apollo image shows land and ocean that would actually have been imaged on the mosaic dated the 6th. With this in mind, figure 4.9.4 below shows a section of southern Africa from the mosaics dated the 6th and 7th compared with the same sections of the post-
Comparison of the Landsat and Apollo image is somewhat compromised by the angle of the Apollo image’s view of Australia and the increasing distance of the Apollo spacecraft from its subject. That said, there are points of similarity between the two. Coastal cloud over Nhulunbuy separated from other clouds on the coast of Papua by blue ocean. We then have a gap in the cloud before we get to the broader swathe of it over the Tanami desert. Not conclusive as I am the first to admit, but the two images are not at all inconsistent.
Moving on now, a short while after Schmitt's long range weather report, another couple of photographs are taken. AS17-
Figure 4.9.8b: Google Earth showing Landsat passes over Australia (bottom left). The same locations are shown on AS17-
While the Apollo 17 image is timed at around 04:00, the Korea images were taken around 02:00 with Borneo imaged shortly afterwards. Burma was photographed at 03:44. With this in mind it is more likely that the Burma image would show the greatest degree of correspondence with the Apollo photograph, but the viewing angle and poor focus makes this difficult to state conclusively. There are certainly clouds near the coast that fit the bill. The Korean and Borneo images are similarly inconclusive, but are certainly not inconsistent with the Apollo image when you allow for the time gap involved.
Later in this mission day, Schmitt asks Capcom if they had managed to find any more information on the storm he had picked out by the Philippines. Capcom confirm that the storm is, in fact, Therese, after which Jack asks about the storm he had thought was Therese over in the Guam area. Capcom tell him that they have no detailed charts of the Guam area. It is likely that the more detailed charts over the Philippines and Vietnam are a consequence of the still ongoing military operations in that area.
As well as confirming that he had taken a pair of photographs before going to sleep, Schmitt also advises Capcom that he has taken another couple at 33:30 MET, or about 15:00 GMT. One of those photographs, AS17-
Figure 4.9.16b: AS17-
Figure 4.9.18b: Landsat paths shown on Google Earth and on AS17-
We’ll only be looking at four of the path here, as the one over Arabia and Ethiopia is under darkness at the time of the photograph, and these are shown in figure 4.9.18c.
Figure 4.9.18c: Comparisons of Landsat passes with AS17-
As far as timings are concerned, Antarctica was imaged at around 06:00. No time is given for the southern African images, but as the central African ones are timed at around 09:00 they are likely to be on the previous orbit at around 07:30. Likewise no time is given for West Africa, but it’s likely they were taken at around 10:30. All of the images therefore pre-
Continuing with the mission analysis, Schmitt has much more to say about the next image he took. He begins his narrative at 38:19 MET (c. 19:45), but the key moment for this research is his statement at 38:33 (c. 20:00):
“About 15 minutes ago I took two more Hasselblad shots of the Earth...and also, Houston, frame number – let's see, that's 16 or 17 -
We therefore have photographs taken at about 19:45 on magazine 148, and also on Sierra Sierra, magazine number 162, a colour roll of 35mm film in a Nikon Camera. The image chosen to examine from magazine 148 is AS17-
The satellite analysis of the Hasselblad image is given in figure 4.9.21a, and this is repeated without the NOAA mosaic in 4.9.21b. The Nikon image is not of good quality and the usual procedures of level and brightness/contrast adjustment did not much more than confirm they show the same features. The focus therefore has been on the better quality image. Figure 4.9.22 shows an annotated map of the visible landmasses that Jack then goes on to discuss at length.
Figure 4.9.23a: Landsat images shown on Google Earth and AS17-
As you can see there aren’t many, but we’ll have a go anyway. The first area to examine is the path covering the Antarctic ocean. We’ll do this in figure 4.9.23c, but first up 4.9.24b examines whether we can be sure we have the right area by looking at an extremely brightness adjusted close-
Figure 4.9.23b: Antarctic area shown in a brightness adjusted crop of AS17-
I should point out first that not all of the coastline is visible in the Apollo image, and I have used my best guess in places, but as far as I can work out I have the blue square in roughly the right place. I’ve also used the weather patterns visible in the satellite image to double check the location. You are welcome to do the same. Let’s have a look at how it compares with the actual Landsat images, together with the ones from the Mexican coast and the Caribbean in figure 4.9.23c.
The satellite view is recorded as 10:15 Indian Standard Time, which is equivalent to 04:45 GMT, Despite being taken just over 24 hours prior to the Apollo image the storm structure and location is an extremely good match. It’s also possible to make out subtle differences between the two Apollo images, reflecting the fact that they were taken an hour or so apart. The research paper identifies the images as being from ESSA-
One of the data sources for that paper is a report on how a newly installed (and only partially operational) radar station in Chennai (then known as Madras) monitored the storm as it made landfall. The report (a copy of which was kindly supplied by India’s Meteorology Service because it is not available online) has more radar images, and those from the 6th are shown in figure 4.9.4c below.
Figure 4.9.4b: Top row: Sections of AS17-
Figure 4.9.3d: Meteorological data for the Cuddalore cyclone
The same report also has this to say about infra-
"Various stages of the development and dissipation of severe cyclone between 2 and 11 December 1972 are clearly seen in the Infrared satellite images at 21:00 IST from [NOAA data]"
The source of those images is this book, published in 1977 along with a detailed account of the storm, and a copy of which I own. Figure 4.9.3e shows the images.
Figure 4.9.3c: Radar images of the Cuddalore Tropical Cyclone taken on December 6th compared with the storm pictured by Apollo on December 7th.
It’s worth remembering that these are radar images from a system still being installed at the time of the storm, and that the images are from the day before the Apollo photograph was taken, but their significance is two fold. Firstly, they show a storm exactly where Apollo photographed it. Secondly, they show a storm that was being monitored by Indian weather services independently of any outside agency, and it was a storm for which they had comparative data in the form of weather satellite images. At no point has anyone from those weather services come out and said “hang on, these aren’t right…”. Why? Because the Apollo photograph is genuine and as such shows a true reflection of the data collected about it.
Other reports also give details of the storm, for example this one, which describes its meteorology in detail, including its track over the sub-
Figure 4.9.3e: Images from ‘The Nilgiris: Weather and Climate of a Mountain Area in South India.
The images are recorded as being taken at 21:00 IST, which is 5.5 hours ahead of GMT, putting them at 15:30 GMT. This would put the December 7th satellite image as taken some 5 hours after the Blue Marble (even less for the earlier partial Earth shot showing the storm). Despite the satellite being infra-
Again, we have freely available satellite records used in an academic volume bearing no relation to Apollo or NASA confirming details in the Apollo photograph.
Returning to the Blue Marble analysis, the time frame for the NOAA image is obviously still the same (though we do now have a likely time of 04:45 on the 7th GMT for the area covering India), and while there is no terminator visible we can estimate the time based on what is visible. Stellarium's view of the Earth at 10:45 GMT seems reasonable and is consistent with the timeline, as by this time the LM docking procedure was complete and the SIV-
It’s also worth looking at the two images of Antarctica covering the area photographed by Landsat (figure 4.9.3f), as well as the same area shown in AS17-
Looking first at the southern Africa image, we can see a clear correspondence between the two, starting with the long thin band of cloud over the area west of Kruger National Park, to the larger mass of cloud off the South African coast. North of that larger cloud mass is the thinner offshore cloud that moves inland in the Durban area.
Apollo 17 also took an image of this area while in Earth orbit as it passed over southern Africa. The image in question is AS17-