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-red (IR) spectra. Visible spectrum images will be preferred, but IR images will be used where necessary and/or appropriate. The data catalogue for this satellite is also interesting in that it does not give timings of orbits. Instead, it gives the time in GMT on longitude lines. The visible spectrum satellite day is still run from around the east coast of Africa onwards , and therefore it is assumed that the weather patterns to the east of this line as far as the west coast of the Americas will be dated the day after the date of the image. The IR night time images seem to start in the Atlantic with the date on the image being appropriate for the whole image. Where digitally restored NOAA data are available and they’re helpful, they’ll be used as well.

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-east of north America, but none of which would prove of any use. This Journal of Applied Meteorology article has a NIMBUS 5 image of the US east coast down to Florida from December 13th, but again there was no opportunity to use it. NIMBUS 5 was launched on the 11th of December and early images were tests, but the data catalogue for it does not start until the 19th. The MWL provides, as ever, useful images of a tropical storm (Therese) on the 7th, which occupied the north Pacific for the first half of the mission, and also of Tropical Storm Violet on the 13th. DAPP satellite images also exist for the 13th of central America in this military publication, but this region does not seem to be covered by Apollo images on that day. We have a recorded DMSP image in this publication for the 16th and that does get used.

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-III images of Puerto Rico, but again the area isn’t photographed by Apollo on the relevant dates.

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-use. It was based on the NIMBUS-4 weather satellite and had the capability to produce colour images. Images are available throughout the mission (sourced from http:\\earthexplorer.gov.), and will be used where appropriate.

As with previous missions, digitally recovered satellite data is available and will be used where possible.

4.9.1a - Mission images: Outward bound, part 1

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-B and its cargo. Separation has only just occurred, as indicated by the numerous small pieces of debris. The timeline suggests that this is part of a TV broadcast, but it may also be from 16mm footage.

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-B.

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-Antarctic whorl of cloud. While the cloud identified by the blue arrow has a position consistent with that in the satellite image (ie it extends from the southern Cape to a position south of Madagascar, it is partially obscured by erroneous data from elsewhere.

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-Atlantic.

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 AS17-148-22685 and AS17-148-22686. I’ve used the ‘March to the Moon’ site as a source as these have very high resolution scans of the images that allow us to match the high quality of the Landsat images. These are shown in figure 4.9.1a, and each is marked with a red box indicating the Landsat path.

Figure 4.9.2: AS17-148-22725 (left, source: AIA) and still from 16mm footage (right)

Figure 4.9.3a: AS17-148-22725 compared with NOAA 2 satellite mosaics from 07/12/72. Blue, green, magenta and yellow arrows are as in figure 4.9.1.

Figure 4.9.1c: AS17-148-22640 (left) compared with Landsat tile covering the same area

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 AS17-148-22717 and AS17-148-22718. These are shown in figure 4.9.1d together with the Landsat locations on Google Earth.

Figure 4.9.1a: AS17-148-22685 (left) and 22686 (centre) marked with Landsat image paths, shown in Google Earth (right).

The data from the Landsat images shows that they were taken between 07:00 and 08:00 on the 7th, giving only around 2-3 hours at the most between when they were taken and those taken by Apollo, so there should be good correspondence between the two. Let’s see how that works out in figure 4.9.1b.

Figure 4.9.1b: Close up of AS17-148-22685 (left) and 22686 (above) compared with Landsat passes.

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 AS17-148-22725 and AS17-148-22718.

Figure 4.9.23c: Areas of AS17-148-22745 compared with Landsat images covering the Antarctic (left), Mexico (top centre and right) and the Caribbean (bottom centre and right).

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 - assuming that I have selected the right area. We also have to bear in mind the timing of the images - 15:46 for the Caribbean and 15:48 for Mexico. The Antarctic was imaged from 16:13 onwards, and these all compare with an estimate of 19:45 for Apollo. Of all of them, assuming I have found the right piece of ocean, the Antarctic one shows the most resemblance to Apollo. We’re getting increasingly distant from Earth, and while the resolution of the Apollo photographs is good enough to match the meteorological satellites, it’s no match for the high resolution of the Landsat probe.

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 - click the link below to read on.

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 - as shown by this 1988 publication.

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 AS17-148-22725 (figure 4.9.2). This is the first image on that magazine to feature a full disk Earth, and appears after several images showing the LM extraction and docking procedure. The photograph immediately preceding it is of the discarded SIV-B drifting towards its eventual destination of the lunar surface. The 16mm footage also shows a brief glimpse of the same view after an extended shot of the departing S-IVB. Once correctly oriented, it is very easy to make out the same African continent visible in the video sequence used for figure 4.9.1, and also the same weather systems from that video given a wider context without the limitations imposed by the CSM window frame. Figure 4.9.3 shows the comparison between the Apollo image and the NOAA-2 satellite images.

Figure 4.9.1d: AS17-148-22717 (bottom left) and 22718 (bottom right) with Landsat image paths marked on, as shown on Google Earth.

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: AS17-148-22718 (left) and 22717 (right) compared with Landsat images. Apollo images have been contrast adjusted and sharpened.

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 AS17-148-22725 (bottom right). White dashed line superimposed to show overlap between days.

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-2 images, drawn to coincide with changes in contrast, are lines that delineate the different day's images.

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 - I guess it's the northwestern coast of India, where it starts to wrap up and around to the west. It's a - rounded out on the horizon, so I can't make out exactly where it is too well.”

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 - South Pole. There's a definite contact between the continent and the water. But, as Ron said, most of the clouds seem to be very artistic, very picturesque - some in clockwise rotating fashion but appear to be very thin where you can, for the most part, kind of see through those clouds to the blue water below…The continent - the continent itself is - is the same colour as the clouds; but, of course, more dense - and striking difference than any of the other white background because you can definitely see that contact with the water and with the clouds over the water.”

And again a few moments later:

“We've got a - I guess probably the continent of Africa dominates the world view right now. It's covering the - oh the upper third - upper and western third of the - of the world. We can see the Sinai; we can see up into the Mediterranean; we can see across the Mediterranean, although we can't make out the countries up there, we can see across into India. I catch a glimpse of Australia out in the far horizon. Got Zanzibar on the southern tip of Africa, the Cape down there just almost directly below us. And, I don't know exactly how big Antarctica is, but I guess we can certainly see more than 50% of it. And - the rest of it is all ocean. The Indian Ocean out into the Pacific Ocean and back into the Atlantic Ocean. And for the most part relatively clear of clouds except in the Antarctica region, and up towards Europe which is - which is on the horizon, across the Mediterranean, it looks like there might be some clouds back up in that way. I probably - probably - well, not probably - I can make out the entire coast of Africa from Mediterranean around to the west, coming back to the south back where it takes its big dip to the east, back around the cape, back around the Suez Canal, almost perfectly.”

“And there's one batch of clouds in northern Africa, just a small batch, it looks like it may be up near the - well, no, it's not near the mouth of the Nile; it's quite a bit west of that, as a matter of fact, I can see the mouth of the Nile; I can see it running straight down towards us as it parallels the Suez and then sort of fades out into the central darker brown of darker green portions of Africa.”

At 11:02 Schmitt takes over the commentary:

“it must be an awful clear day for the so-called convergence zone across Africa...most of Africa is clear. Only some - probably are broken and scattered clouds - cumulus in the east central portion that are running along the line of north/south lines. Looks like a major circulation system off the southern tip of Africa...plus one [east] of that, 20 or 30 degrees of longitude...and southwest of the tip of South Africa at the Cape Good Hope, there looks to be an incipient circulation system developing about half way between the coast of Antarctica and Africa.”

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. AS17-148-22736 can be seen below in figure 4.9.5, and the satellite analysis on the next page in figure 4.9.6.

Figure 4.9.5: AS17-148-22736 Source: AIA

Figure 4.9.6: AS17-148-22736 compared with NOAA2 satellite mosaic dated 07/12/72 with Stellarium inset of time at terminator. 3D reconstruction using digitally restored data to the right.

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: AS17-148-22737 Source: AIA

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 5-50-millimetre pictures."

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-western portion of Antarctic ice shelf....That front looks like it starts and develops as a small - it - it actually seems to start with an anticyclone development off the coast of Antarctica. Moves up across New Zealand. Looks like the South Island primarily, a little bit of the North Island is still visible and into the eastern coast of Australia..."

“...that front is going off across to the coast of Australia north of Sidney and largely a little south of Brisbane and - and swings across the whole of Australia and seems to come - near as I can tell, go by into the Indian ocean about - well, where the Great Sandy Desert intersects the north-western coast of Australia....That front does cross. Probably Brisbane is probably cloudy. it does cross that area, and - however, there is a bank of clouds that runs off of it down the coastline. So Sidney is either cloudy or has some pretty nice clouds off - off shore. And the remnants of the front as it dissipates in the hinterland of Australia dies out at about the Great Sandy Desert, and there is not a good indication that it crosses into the Ind - Indian Ocean. ...it looks more and more like the cyclone circulation developing right over the top of New Zealand, the South Island, I think...anticyclone circulation is centred on the ice shelf. “

“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 - that is east by 20 or 30 degrees of longitude of the front that I was just discussing....Between New Zealand and Australia, the front I was discussing previously has some fairly strong transverse cloud patterns......but the bulk of Australia is very clear, all the south and the north. It's just one line of clouds that crosses the centre section."

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 - a couple of days ago was in the Philippines. But I can't - I don't think I quite have that visible to me right now.”

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 - the western part of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Australia is only just visible in this image but it’s a more useful one to look at because the image’s timing differs from the Landsat path by only about 30 minutes. Figure 4.9.8b shows the relevant details.

Figure 4.9.9: AS17-148-22739. Source: AIA

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-Antarctic oceans, features that are easily spotted on the satellite mosaics, and we will see Schmitt's description of them shortly. His first observations about the state of the weather for this picture occur at 22:26 MET (roughly 04:00 GMT):

“...we're starting to be able to see the coast of Asia. The Philippines are wide open today. And the - that tropical storm Theresa [sic] that I mentioned that I thought I could see - indeed, I'm sure that's what that little concentrated mass of clouds was north of New Guinea. And, I suspect, that the folks in Guam may be in for some heavy weather...oh and Bob, I got another pair of pictures...about 10 minutes ago.”

This is a fairly good clue that the AS17-148-22739 (and its companion in the magazine) was taken at roughly 04:15 on the 8th.  Examination of the Apollo photograph does indeed show that East and SE Asia are just beginning to be visible. Guam is located north of the area of cloud arrowed in red. New Guinea (now called Papua New Guinea) is just north of Australia and south of Guam. From this description it looks as though he suspects that the red arrowed cloud mass is Therese – but is he correct?

Fortunately for us, we have a few satellite photographs available, as described in the introduction to this section, namely the original NOAA-2 pass and also a DAPP satellite image. They are not from the exact date of the Apollo image used here. We can, however, use them to identify where Therese is. Figure 4.9.11 shows the north-west corner of AS17-148-22739 compared with the DAPP and NOAA images from the 6th and 7th respectively. As with any time-series images of weather phenomena, there is no exact match here, rather an indication of the storm's progressive development as it moves westwards towards land and an overall indication of the weather system's make-up.

Figure 4.9.11: AS17-148-22739 compared with DAPP from 06/12/72 (left) and NOAA from 07/12/72 (right) images.

The spiral arms of the storm are nicely picked out by all three images, and the long band of cloud trending north-eastwards from it is also well defined. The gap between Therese and the other north/north-east trending system further to the west is visible in the NOAA image, and the southern tip of that secondary band is just included in the DAPP image.

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-2 image. The original source gives it as December 7th, which is the date of the satellite mosaic originally used to look at the Apollo source picture. Does this mean that the NOAA-2 image is one taken actually on the 7th (and would therefore appear on the mosaic dated the 6th) or part of the dataset starting the 7th, and therefore actually imaged on the 8th? Figure 4.9.12 compares the NOAA mosaic versions dated the 6th and 7th with the NOAA image from the MWL dated the 6th.

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-2 image published in the MWL is dated the 7th correctly, and can be identified in the mosaic dated the 6th. The cloud mass over the Vietnam coast and the ones adjoining Therese at sea are a better match in the left hand mosaic section compared with the right, and the long thin cloud over the Vietnam coast on the centre image matches Apollo's more closely. Secondly, the degradation in image quality when compiling the mosaic is very evident. The original source image used in the MWL is much clearer and has far more detail.

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 - reflect the various cold fronts have - are arcuate with their convex sides, or more actually, almost pointed sides are all lined up in a west-to-east direction around that latitude. It's quite a spectacular appearing circulation pattern. And the little wave that I mentioned on New Zealand seems to be beginning to form another arrow or another convex point on that front that's fitting right into the same circulation pattern..that would make four of those major convex fronts that I can see from this view crossing - south of Australia up into the South Pacific.”

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 - about 5 or 6 degrees, no more that about. it looks like it's about 5 degrees west of Manila and 5 degrees south.”

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 - what appears to be the storm I'm speaking of, would be about 142 longitude and maybe 8 degrees north latitude...which would put it south of Guam”

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 - oh, I don't know - maybe a what - a 12 hours old prog, or something.”

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 - it's - moved quite a bit now and I guess it's the same storm; still seems to be very well organised but quite concentrated and small.”

Capcom: “Okay we'll get in a new prog and compare your estimate there”

Schmitt: “OK, I think that's pretty good - those 142 and 8 degrees would be pretty good centre of that storm. I've got some pretty good coor - I can see Mindanao, and I can see the - let's see - just a second, what is that on Australia?...Yes of course, that's Port Moresby. I can see that point there, and between those two - I can pin down that one probably with a couple of degrees”

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-entry – and even then only for the Florida and splashdown locations, this is unsurprising. It would be up to other agencies like ESSA to monitor any emergent trends on a wider regional level, who would update NASA as required. Schmitt's fascination with the weather is something that was evidently not anticipated by Capcom (and to a certain extent seems to bemuse them somewhat, particularly as his lengthy dialogues do get in the way of essential technical transmissions governing spacecraft maintenance and mission details. Jack's amateur meteorologist status (which he does briefly mention by way of explaining any errors he may be making) is revealed by his assumption that Therese has shifted several thousand miles over a relatively short period!

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 - looks like a very strong system that stretches from, oh, let's the south coast of - or southeast coast of Vietnam up - up between and across Tai - between the Philippines and Taiwan and across Taiwan. And right along, and I can't tell I think, just off - just south of Japan...The strongest storm centre that I can see on that is - is way north, and probably - Hokkaido is - has a fair amount of weather from the storm system. There seems to be a tropical depression just north of Borneo, a very strong circulation system north of Borneo and, I guess, just south of - of Vietnam.,,that's not what's left of Sally is it?”

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-identifying storm systems!) and are still awaiting their more up to date chart. Schmitt goes on to describe clear skies over Korea and cloud cover over Japan before returning to the area around Therese:

“...As I recall, they had a tropical storm called Sally that went into - ... a few days ago, and so I suspect this new one that seems - that I think I see between Borneo and Vietnam maybe something else; a new depression or I maybe - be fooled by it.... Mainland China, Bob, was the last pass here. I can't see the Ear - see the Earth now, but Mainland China looked like it was clear as far as I could see. There might be a front quite a ways inland...but Korea, Yellow Sea, and the regions of China south of there - Shanghai, Nanking and those places are - looks as if they are quite clear....It looks like some residual cloudiness would be affecting the Pusan region of Korea. And, also, that's residual after the frontal passage. And it looks like maybe Shanghai, after all, may have some storms associated with it, but it's really hard to pick out exactly 0 the exact coast line of Asia, but I - there are some clouds in the Yellow Sea behind the front. Looks like they might be possibly some high cirrus is all.”

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 - does not have a strong cyclonic pattern to it. Nothing at all like the pattern that now exists above Borneo and seems to be moving towards Luzon.”

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 - and in a generally - over wide part of that Pacific, I'm talking about 15 or 20 degrees of longitude and latitude, there's a - roughly a clock - a clockwise circulation pattern. But the clouds do not look very dense or concentrated in any one area. And at leading off to the south-east from that general cloud mass, they're cyclonic - anticyclonic cloud mass is a - is one of the old fronts - or at least one of the old linear cloud patterns that extends down into the south Pacific....I wouldn't expect [winds] to be anything - anything what might be down - associated with the remnants of the tropical depression Theresa. Now that Theresa - what's left of it, if I'm correct in - in picking out there, probably is - is moving in that direction, although it looks weak enough. But right now I don't think it would be any big problem. And it may, in fact, go south of there.”

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-east is picked out by the green arrow in figure 4.9.10.

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 Philippines.”

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 - Manila's clear. The only thing approaching near Manila is - is this other storm center that is north of Borneo. And to the east of Manila, it's clear all the way over to this little cloud mass that I was guess might be Theresa.”

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 - it really looks like a humdinger from here. Beautiful circulation patterns and very concentrated. And it is now east of Vietnam, and again between Vietnam and - and the island of Luzon.”

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, AS17-148-22742, is shown below in figure 4.9.14.

Figure 4.9.14: AS17-148-22742. Source:  AIA

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), AS17-148-22742 (centre) and NOAA image dated the 6th (right). The coastline superimposed on the NOAA mosaic can be seen easily in the Apollo image. See figure 4.9.12 for discussion of dates of the satellite images.

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 AS17-148-22725 can be seen on the western limb, picked out by the yellow arrow.

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: AS17-148-22743. Source: AIA

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 - except for an area probably around Zambia and Rhodesia [Zimbabwe] in the tropical convergence zone there, where it looks pretty cloudy and probably quite rainy. There's a strong circulation pattern, and presumably a storm off - just off the coast of north-west Africa. Very spectacular spiral formation of clouds in a cyclone development. it looks like there are probably two fairly week Southern Hemisphere cyclones in the South Atlantic, One, south-west of Cape of Good Hope, and other about due west of the Falkland Islands, maybe a little bit north of that. South America looks to be in quite good shape weatherwise, except possibly Uruguay and maybe northern Argentina which appear to have a - at least some fairly thick clouds there, although no strong circulation currents associated with this.”

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: AS17-148-22745. Source AIA

Figure 4.9.20: AS17-162-24047. Source:  AIA

Figure 4.9.21a: AS17-148-22745 compared with NOAA2 satellite mosaic and Stellarium estimate of time at terminator. 3D reconstruction using digitally restored NOAA data to the left.

Figure 4.9.21b: AS17-162-24047 with weather patterns identified in figure 4.9.21 identified. This image has had brightness and contrast levels adjusted and the degree of blue enhanced.

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-west, north-north-east. No strong weather waves or cyclone development on that yet, although one may be picking up halfway between Tierra del Fuego and the coast of Antarctica, the - where the front, or at least the cloud masses, curve from the east-west direction to an almost due south direction. Most of South America looks like pretty good weather. There is cloudiness on the Andean Ridge and also in the Amazon Basin , stretching from the eastern coast of South America on up about, oh, 2/3 of the way towards Central America. It doesn't look like frontal weather there. It's probably tropical convergence weather. Now there is this - still this small, moderately developed cyclone pattern that's hanging pretty much over Buenos Aires now, I think. Uruguay and Buenos Aires.”

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 - as is most of the Caribbean islands. Cuba and he others are - all look like they've pretty good weather. There's a little clouds off - cloud pattern off to the east of those islands, but it doesn't look like any major weather in that area. The eastern half of the Midwest of the United States is completely cloud covered right now. There - however, the - extending from Mexico to Sonora and up into Arizona and New Mexico, and possibly as far north as Colorado, is a clear band. But there is more cloudiness to the north of that. The Pacific regions west of - The West Coast of the United States is cloudy at least west of Southern California. I cannot see Baja, so that cloudiness extends down south of - into Baja California. I see no strong new frontal patterns, although I'm looking right across the limb at the Earth now. There may be one that would be lying maybe across northern California and - and into Colorado, with a little clear area ahead of it, possibly in Kansas. But then into this, a solid bank of clouds that stretches from Brownsville, at least, clear up to - well, along the Gulf Coast and on out past Nova Scotia, I'm sure. Florida is clear. Florida - the peninsular portion of Florida is - it looks very 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-3 one, as Capcom state that it covers the same areas that Schmitt is describing. Schmitt is also informed that his broadcasts are being listened to with great interest by

“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 - and just off the coast of Antarctica, then bends up so that it would pass just to the east of Tierra del Fuego and - and then continues on that heading so that it would intersect the far east coast of South America, if it continued. Now along that axis, the - what appear to be multiple frontal patterns or at least frontal cloud bands, bend very sharply and change from a heading that roughly parallels the axis around the one that is roughly north-south. And some of the front - frontal direction changes that I gave you earlier, down in that area, are - also bend around that axis...and there just, oh, there are probably a dozen, if you tried to pull them out, cloud bands between the Ross Sea and Tierra del Fuego that bend around the same axis”

“...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 - certainly the coast side of the Andean ridge. Lima ought to be enjoying a very nice day today. The - Ecuador, however, looks like it might have a little more cloudy weather, although it doesn't look like any major storm activity.”

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: AS17-148-22737 compared with NOAA 2 satellite mosaic dated 07/12/72 and Stellarium estimate of terminator time. 3D reconstruction using digitally restored data to the left.

Figure 4.9.10: AS17-148-22739 compared with NOAA2 satellite mosaic from 07/12/72 and Stellarium estimate of terminator time. Cyan, green, yellow and red arrows are as in 4.9.8. Eft is 3D reconstruction using digitally restored NOAA data.

Figure 4.9.16a: AS17-148-22742 compared with NOAA2 satellite mosaic and Stellarium terminator estimate. Red cyan and blue arrows are as in figure 4.9.10. Blue arrow points to Tropical Storm Therese. Left is a 3D reconstruction using digitally restored NOAA data.

Figure 4.9.18a: AS17-148-22743 compared with NOAA2 satellite mosaic, and Stellarium estimate of terminator time. Left is a 3D reconstruction using digitally restored NOAA data.

Figure 4.9.3f: Comparison of the Antarctic region of AS17-148-22685 (left) AS17-148-22717 (centre) and AS17-148-22725 (right).

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 - one of the tiles of this Antarctic series appears in this 1988 publication, long before the internet.

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-launch stills. The 3D reconstruction used above has been done by merging the two day’s images. The overlap around the East coast of Africa does cause issues, but otherwise the match is extremely good.

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.

We get a slightly better result from a couple of Landsat tracks from the evening of the 7th that covers the Antarctic region (figure 4.9.8c)

Figure 4.9.8b: Google Earth showing Landsat passes over Australia (bottom left). The same locations are shown on AS17-148-22737 (top left) and compared to the right. Apollo image has been brightness adjusted and sharpened for clarity.

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, AS17-148-22743, is shown in figure 4.9.17, and the satellite analysis is shown on in figure 4.9.18a.

Figure 4.9.16b: AS17-148-22742 shown with the locations of Landsat images (top left), with the  Landsat images shown on Google Earth (above). Burma (top right), Korea (centre right) and Borneo (bottom right) images shown in comparison with Apollo. Apollo image is brightness adjusted and sharpened for clarity.

Figure 4.9.18b: Landsat paths shown on Google Earth and on AS17-148-22743

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 AS17-148-22743  - Antarctica (top), South Africa (bottom left), Central Africa (bottom centre) and West Africa (Bottom right). Apollo image has been brightness adjusted and sharpened for clarity.

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-date the Apollo one by several hours, but despite that there is still a great degree of correspondence between them.

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 - were taken of the Earth about 15 minutes ago too. And that's magazine Sierra Sierra.”

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 AS17-148-22745, and this is shown in figure 4.9.19.  AS17-162-24047 from the Nikon 35mm film is shown below it in figure 4.9.20.

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 AS17-148-22745.

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-up of the image.

Figure 4.9.23b: Antarctic area shown in a brightness adjusted crop of AS17-148-22745 compared with Google Earth view of the same area. Red line shows the Antarctic coast, the blue square the area covered by Landsat.

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.

Next Section Previous Section

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-8, which explains the slight difference in appearance compared with the NOAA-2 image.

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 AS17-148-22718 (left) and AS17-148-22725 (right). Bottom row shows the NOAA-2 images from December 6th (left) and the 7th (right).

Figure 4.9.3d: Meteorological data for the Cuddalore cyclone

The same report also has this to say about infra-red satellite imagery of the event contained in another volume:

"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 infra-red satellite pictured appear more realistic and show more vividly the life-history of the Cuddalore cyclone. Such infra-red pictures would therefore be of great forecasting value in similar cases in future."

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-continent and a synoptic chart (figure 4.9.3d).

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-red rather than visible spectrum there are excellent comparisons to be had with the Blue Marble photographs. There is, for example, the double prong of clouds at the northern end of the spiral, and the much thinner fan of clouds on the south-western end spreading into the Arabian Sea. We also have the clouds spreading over Sri Lanka and then heading westwards.

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-B disposed of.

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 AS17-148-22685 (see figure 4.9.1a).

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 AS17-148-22640, shown in figure 4.9.1c.

Figure 4.9.8c: Landsat passes over the Antarctic region on 07/12/72 compared with AS17-148-22737

The area of clear water between the edge of the Thurston peninsula and the off-shore icebergs is very obviously the same, even allowing for viewing angle and image quality.

Moving on now, a short while after Schmitt's long range weather report, another couple of photographs are taken. AS17-148-22739 is shown below in figure 4.9.9, and analysed in figure 4.9.10.