4.9.1-2 - Apollo 17 Day 1 Part 2, The Blue Marble

Having powered their way through sunrise Apollo 17 emerges blinking into the eternal daylight of cislunar space, Before separating from the SIV-B they grab three quick photographs on the way out, namely those included in figure 4.9.1-2.1.

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Figure 4.9.1-2.1: AS17-148-22669, AS17-148-22670 and AS17-148-22671

The records show that TLI (in darkness) occurred at 08:51, and as there are no clouds of debris particles we can assume it is before CSM separation at 09:15. It’s also looking in the direction of travel, so it must also be before the manoeuvre to docking attitude that was commenced at 09:06. Let’s see what a time of 09:00 gives us in terms of a view, and how that view compares with the satellite record in figure 4.9.1-2.2.

Figure 4.9.1-2.2: AS17-148-22671 compared with satellite data, 3D reconstruction and SkySafari time depiction.

Before making any kind of comment it has to be noted that the satellite image here is not without its problems - there are clearly errors in the image. Despite that, however, we can still see that there is broad agreement with the Apollo image, and the view in SkySafari confirms that it is what they should be seeing at this point.

The next section gets complicated, because a lot of photographs and other images are flying around at the same time. We’ll try and get them in some sort of order.

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 this recording  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 (which started at 09:23), but it may also be from 16mm footage. The superb Apollo 17 in real time site suggests the time is aroun 09:24, which is when I’ve set SkySafari’s depiction.

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 4.9.1-2.3, together with a satellite image taken on the same day as the launch.

Figure 4.9.1-2.3: Screenshots of video from Apollo 17 compared with December 7th NOAA 2 mosaics, with 3D reconstruction using digitally restored data, and SkySafari time depiction.

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. It’s worth noting that the view of Earth in SkySafari isn’t quite because it is from much further out.

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 09:24, and NOAA's image is recorded as being 06:48 GMT for the east coast of Africa, and 10:48 for the mid-Atlantic.

While the moving pictures were being captured, lots of still photographs were also being taken, and we have several photographs of a partial disk taken after separation (judging by the existence of lots of debris in the ones preceding the Earth photographs. They are also taken before docking, as they precede images of the docking process, which completed at 09:30. Figure 4.9.1-2.4 shows 4 of those photographs, and the resultant montage that can be compiled from them.

Figure 4.9.1-2.4: AS17-148-22682, AS17-148-22686, AS17-148-22679 and AS17-148-22685. Right is a montage of those 4 photographs.

It’s worth noting here that the crew are not yet far enough out to see the entire globe, hence the disproportionately large size of Africa compared with the SkySafari view in figure 4.9.1-2.3. Apollo 17 is now roughly 6000 miles from Earth, well short of the 25000 miles a geostationary satellite needs to be to see the entire globe.

Now that we’ve introduced these photographs we can discuss another satellite that was in operation at the time: Landsat. Figure 4.9.1-2.5 shows two of the photographs used above, 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. The Landsat passes have been superimposed on the photographs.

Figure 4.9.1-2.5: 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 4.9.1-2.6

Figure 4.9.1-2.6: Close up of AS17-148-22685 (left) and 22686 (above) compared with Landsat passes.

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. The reader is gently nudged to the EPO section of day one for a comparison of an Earth orbit image with a Landsat tile.

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.

The next four images of Earth are two pairs of views, one showing just the top half of Africa, the other an almost entire disk, an example from each pair is shown below in figure 4.9-1-2.7, along with a SkySafari time depiction.

Figure 4.9.1-2.7: AS17-148-22699, AS17-148-226702 and SkySafari time depiction.

With the shot immediately before the quarter Earth being of the now docked LM, we know it can’t be before 09:30. The photographs after these 4 are of a now departing and empty SIV-B, which means it must be somewhere after 10:18.

We can be pretty precise, however, thanks to the following comment in the transcript:

004:47:29 Evans: …Jack. Hand me the Hasselblad. I think we're bowing the right direction. [Pause.] Yeah, the Moon is there. The Earth is - that's the Earth.

004:47:56 Evans: The Earth just fills up window 5…Okay, f, infinity, about a 250th, f/11.

Ron was so very close to capturing the most famous image of Earth ever taken!

The next views of Earth come as the SIV-B tumbles away from the now complete CSM-LM stack, which means they must have undocked. There is also this comment:

004:57:10 Schmitt: And for your reference, at frame 105 I started a few 250-millimeter pictures of the S-IVB.

Which puts the time at at least 10:30 for these latest Earth photographs. Figure 4.9.1-2.8 shows a selection of these photographs and a photomontage of them.

Notice how the proportions of Africa has changed now that Earth is considerably further away, and even parts of the Mediterranean are now visible.

. The time has been set at 10:33 on the basis if the following exchange:

004:59:37 Cernan: Bob, I know - I know we're not the first to discover this, but we'd like to confirm, from the crew of America, that the world is round.

004:59:52 Overmyer: Roger. That's a good data point. Have you gotten a good look at any of that weather down there on the Antarctic?

005:00:02 Cernan: Well, on Ron's window number 1 - maybe he can tell you a little about it.

005:00:09 Evans: You know, it's real funny there in Antarctica the - You can see the snow, but there isn't any weather at all in it. All of the weather's around it in the water.

005:00:26 Evans: I don't know what to take a picture of. [Long pause.]

Very often, Ron's microphone seems to be open, allowing unusual sounds to be heard on the air/ground circuit. Earlier, the sound of the DAC movie camera was apparent. During this pause in Ron's speech, a Hasselblad camera can be heard to operate twice, including the sound of the electric motor drive advancing the film and recocking the shutter.

005:01:12 Evans: I can't see the U.S. at all.

So here we have evidence that photographs are being taken, and we also know that the evasive manoeuvre burn has yet to occur, thanks to this:

005:03:11 Overmyer: 17, Houston. It's about 30 seconds from the evasive maneuver burn.

Which gives us the time I’ve chosen.

Now that more of the Earth is visible, we also have the opportunity to look at some more Landsat views, seen in the higher resolution March to the Moon views of AS17-148-22717 and AS17-148-22718. These are shown in figure 4.9.1-2.9 together with the Landsat locations on Google Earth.


Figure 4.9.1-2.8: AS17-148-22721, AS17-148-22718, AS17-148-22719 and AS17-148-22717. Also shown is a SkySafari depiction of the time and a photomontage of the above.

Figure 4.9.1-2.9: 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 4.9.1-2.10.

Figure 4.9.1-2.10: AS17-148-22718 (left) and 22717 (right) compared with Landsat images. Apollo images have been contrast adjusted and sharpened.

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.

Next up is the money shot: The Blue Marble.

Of the many versions of the photograph that could have been chosen, the one used here is AS17-148-22725 (figure 4.9.1-2.11). 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 4.9.1-2.1, and also the same weather systems from that video given a wider context without the limitations imposed by the CSM window frame. Figure 4.9.1-2.12 shows the comparison between the Apollo image and the NOAA-2 satellite images.

Figure 4.9.1-2.11: AS17-148-22725 (left, source: AIA) and still from 16mm footage (right)

Figure 4.9.1-2.12: AS17-148-22725 compared with NOAA 2 satellite mosaics from 07/12/72. Blue, green, magenta and yellow arrows are as in figure 4.9.1-2.1.

I’ve added a blue line here to outline roughly what is visible in the image - it shows quite clearly that everything in sunlight is correct, and also which areas aren’t visible because of the curve. Flat earthers routinely forget to notice that southern Europe, Western Australia and Brazil are in the image. It’s also worth noting that the subsolar point on the map is over Namibia, compared with off the east coast of South Africa in the blue marble - something directly related to the viewing position of the spacecraft.

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 4.9.1-2.14 compared with the cyclone shown in AS17-148-22725 and AS17-148-22718.

Figure 4.9.1-2.14: 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).

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 4.9.1-2.15 below.

Figure 4.9.1-2.15: 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 4.9.1-2.16.

Figure 4.9.1-2.16: 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 4.9.1-2.17 shows the images.

Figure 4.9.1-2.17: 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. SkySafari'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.

Now that we have the full Earth in view, 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 4.9.1-2.18 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.

Figure 4.9.1-2.18: 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:

005:17:54 Cernan: Bob, you've got a pretty good size storm over the north - I guess the north-western coast of - of India, where it starts to wrap up and around to the west. It's a - 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:

005:19:00 Cernan: Bob, 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, well 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.

005:19:45 Overmyer: Roger.

005:19:46 Cernan: The continent - the continent itself is - is the same color as the clouds; but, of course, more dense - and a striking difference than any of the other white background around because you can definitely see that contact with the water and with the clouds over the water.

And again a few moments later:

005:21:27 Cernan: Okay. And I suppose we're seeing as 100 per cent full Earth as we'll ever see; certainly as I've ever seen. It appears to be - it may be a little bit - a little bit of a terminator way out to the - well, to the east - out beyond Australia and beyond India. But beyond that it's about 99 per cent pure. [Long pause.]

005:22:59 Cernan: Bob, it's these kind of views - these kind of views that stick with you forever.

005:23:07 Overmyer: Roger, Gene.

005:23:09 Cernan: We've got a - I guess probably the continent of Africa dominates the world 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 quite make out the countries up there; we can see across into India. I catch a glimpse of Australia out on 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 per cent 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 can probably - probably - well, not probably - I can make out the entire coast of Africa from - 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 up through the Suez Canal, almost perfectly.

005:24:59 Overmyer: Roger. We understand.

005:25:02 Cernan: 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 or darker green portions of Africa.

At 11:02 Schmitt takes over the commentary:

005:30:06 Schmitt: Bob, I'm looking over Gene's shoulder here at the Earth, and it must be an awful clear day for the so-called convergence zone across Africa. Gene, I think, Indicated, as it looked to us as we crossed it earlier, 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.

005:30:07 Overmyer: Roger.

005:30:08 Schmitt: Looks like a major circulation system off the southern tip of Africa, as Gene mentioned, plus one west of that, 20 or 30 degrees of longitude. Make that east of that.

005:30:09 Overmyer: Roger.

005:30:10 Schmitt: And, southwest of the - make that south southwest of the tip of Africa at Cape Good Hope, there looks like an incipient circulation system developing about half way between the coast of Antarctica and Africa. If I had to guess, it's going to swing up north towards the Cape and - and then swing west. The whole pattern, [garble] it looks like now, is a fairly equally spaced cyclones that are sort of circling around the Antarctic continent, as we can see it now.

005:30:11 Overmyer: Roger, Jack.

005:33:50 Schmitt: But I would guess that South Africa is going to have good weather for several more days, at least. And if the pattern is - is apparent in the clouds we see is correct, the last disturbance I mentioned probably is going to pass south of the Cape also,

005:33:51 Overmyer: Roger. Understand.

005:33:52 Schmitt: As we were going - over our daylight around the Earth in orbit, it was very clear looking at the various clouds, Bob, what were high clouds and what were low clouds, particularly when you had them together. The high clouds cast very distinct shadow patterns on the lower ones and, very commonly, had entirely different orientations - pattern orientations. The low ones seem to be more associated with arcuate front patterns; whereas, the high clouds were generally transverse to that, roughly north/south directions. That's not completely general observation, but I noticed it several times.

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. Perhaps most significant is this:

005:54:25 Schmitt: Okay. [Pause.] There is a good strong northern hemisphere cyclone up near India, and I think Gene mentioned that. It, I think, was one I saw in some of the forecast sheets as a dissipating hurricane or typhoon. I'm not sure which it is there. I guess it's a typhoon. [Pause.] And I see something here that I noticed in Earth orbit, Bob. That as you approach the terminator - and now I'm looking at the eastern terminator [pause] got to keep all my directions straight here - yeah, eastern terminator. The clouds - those associated with the cyclone over India and one that's - appears to be due south of there - maybe 30 degrees of latitude - have a gray appearance. The - instead of the brilliant white of other clouds as you approach the terminator, those - at least the high level clouds are gray. Now, when we were going over them in orbit, the lower level clouds were still white, and I think I can see a hint of that right now. The Sun gives a strong light reflection off of the buildups in the low-level clouds; whereas, the high-level and probably layered cirrus and maybe some of the intermediate level stratus tend to look gray because of grazing Sun, I suspect.

Obviously discussing the Cuddalore cyclone.

Shortly after the first blue marble sequence, we have a sequence of four photographs that appear superficially similar, but where close examination suggests a time gap between them and the first round of photographs. Figure 4.9.1-2.19 shows an example of one of them.

Figure 4.9.1-2.20: AS17-148-22736

Figure 4.9.1-2.22: Comparison of the Antarctic region of (left to right) AS17-148-22685,AS17-148-22717, AS17-148-22725, AS17-148-27333 and AS17-148-27336. Landsat view is on the right. Apollo views have been rotated to match the Landsat perspective and level adjusted for clarity.

The hours covered by these photographs 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, focus that becomes less sharp as the subject becomes more distant. The clearest image is obviously AS17-148-22717, but all of the images contain recognisable features shown in the Landsat image.

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.

That’s it in terms of photographs, but they are still admiring the view back home. At around 20:45 we have this exchange:

015:09:44 Cernan: Yeah, from the looks of things, Bob, down there, it looks like getting off last night was a good idea.

015:09:55 Fullerton: Got a new CapCom now, Geno. Why? Looks kind of cloudy down there?

015:10:01 Cernan: Yeah. Hello, Gordo. How you doing? Yeah, I'm looking - oh, we're probably directly over - just west of the - out in the Pacific, but abeam of the bottom third of South America, I suppose. And I've got North America, Mexico, and the U.S. on the top third - the top 25 per cent of the Earth. And it looks like you've got cloud cover from somewhere where the coast bends around Corpus right on north into the Great Lakes and is completely out into the Atlantic, including covering Florida out there.

015:10:43 Fullerton: Roger. I can verify the part between the Cape and Houston, anyway. [Pause.]

015:10:57 Cernan: Yeah, the Gulf looks like it's pretty well filled with clouds. Looks pretty thick from here.

015:11:03 Fullerton: Roger.

015:11:07 Cernan: However, if you're interested in going to South America, the whole continent looks - looks pretty good. A few clouds; but, for the most part, you can see the entire continent.

Figure 4.9.2-2.23 compares the SkySafari time depiction and satellite imagery matching this description.

Figure 4.9.1-2.21: AS17-148-22736 compared with NOAA2 satellite mosaic dated 07/12/72 SkySafari time depiction. 3D reconstruction using digitally restored data to the right.

Figure 4.9.1-2.23: SkySafari time depiction and satellite imagery related to crew comments

As always, the description of what he is seeing is absolutely spot on, both in terms of what land masses should be visible and the weather patterns on it.

Later on, Schmitt joins in the forecasting:

017:23:53 Schmitt: Gordy, I don't know what your weather is like down there, but from here it looks like you're probably overcast today. Might even have a pretty good storm going.

017:24:04 Fullerton: Well, it's gray and cold and a little rain, so your - your call is correct.

017:24:14 Schmitt: Yeah, it looks like Mexico, in general, is pretty nice, although there is a band of east-west trending clouds that start from the - from the Gulf of California, across Sonora and probably up through New Mexico, and over into Texas as far around as I can see. Southern California looks like it's in pretty good shape today, but northern California looks like it's probably overcast. And a major system probably associated with that, that stretches into the northern western United States. [Pause.] But a band of clear weather looks like it stretches from Arizona right on up through, I would guess it - through Colorado and Kansas and probably into the Midwest pretty well.

17:25:24 Fullerton: Rog. You're a regular human weather satellite.

017:25:30 Schmitt: If Ron would just stop his maneuvers I'd tell you some more, but the Earth just set behind the LM.

017:25:38 Fullerton: Rog.

017:25:40 Schmitt: More specifically, it set behind the Rover, which may be a space first. [Long pause.] Pretty impressive storm system down off the west coast of Antarctica.

Again, we can compare what Schmitt should be seeing with what he’s describing (figure 4.9.1-2.24)

Figure 4.9.1-2.24: SkySafari time depiction and satellite imagery related to crew comments

Again, we can see that the descriptions match exactly what would be expected.

That’s it for the mammoth first day - the next photographs are from the 8th, so click on the link below to see them.

Intro Day 2 - 08/12/72 Day 3 - 09/12/72 Day 4 - 10/12/72 Day 5 - 11/12/72 Day 6 - 12/12/72 Day 7 - 13/12/72 Day 8 - 14/12/72 Day 09 - 15/12/72 Day 10 - 16/12/72 Day 11 - 17/12/72 Day 13 - 19/12/72 Synoptic
Intro Day 2 - 08/12/72 Day 3 - 09/12/72 Day 4 - 10/12/72 Day 5 - 11/12/72 Day 6 - 12/12/72 Day 7 - 13/12/72 Day 8 - 14/12/72 Day 09 - 15/12/72 Day 10 - 16/12/72 Day 11 - 17/12/72 Day 13 - 19/12/72 Synoptic

There is more of the Atlantic on view off the coast of Africa in this photograph compared with the first blue marble collection, but much more obviously the Cuddalore cyclone is now beginning to edge into darkness. Which places the photograph roughly an hour later than the original set. At around that time Schmitt continues with this planetary observations, often in response to comments from Capcom::

005:59:07 Schmitt: Yeah, I can see the part of South America that Wegener thought that fitted into the bend in Africa some many decades ago and started people thinking about moving continents around on the crust.

006:00:17 Schmitt: Bob, you certainly do have a very clear intuitive impression, although the evidence is hard to pull together, that the - any frontal systems that move off the Antarctic continent do not take on any well-defined character until they get into the moist regions of the ocean. And when they do, they seem to pick up an arcuate circ - circulation that, in the view we have, seem to get fairly regularly spaced cyclone patterns that lie between the - the Cape of Good Hope and northern portion of Antarctica. And these - circulations of the cyclones follows roughly an east/west pattern, and the curve - and the arcs of the fronts are more north/south than - let's say northwest, swinging around to the south…All of them - all of them very - very nicely defined as southern hemisphere cyclones. There - about four of those visible swinging around - oh, I guess, that's latitude - I'm having to guess here, but I'd say latitude 50 to 60 south.

006:02:14 Schmitt: Well, that sounds like a pretty good guess, then. It looks like the intertropical convergence zone over Africa is starting to get more and more clouds in it now. I suspect as midday approaches, which is what we're seeing there, we can expect to see more and more moisture indications.

006:02:39 Overmyer: Rog. They're - they're probably about noontime right there right now. It's 11:36 at the zero meridian at Greenwich, so it's just a little bit before noon right in that area you're talking about.

006:02:51 Schmitt: Yeah, some of those masses of what I suspect are cumulus buildups - well, not really. They don't look like they're as concentrated and localized. More like just masses of fairly dense clouds that are developing in that band of green that crosses the lower portion of Africa.

As usual, his weather observations match what can be seen in the photographs.

The next image is again part of the long sequence of photographs of a receding Earth. AS17-148-22736 (the last in a series fo 3) can be seen below in figure 4.9.1-2.20, and the satellite analysis in figure 4.9.1-2.21.

Figure 4.9.1-2.19: AS17-148-22733 and SkySafari time depiction

We can be pretty certain of the time thanks to Schmitt informing the ground:

007:56:44 Schmitt: [Garble] Bob, mag November November is 130 now. And I just took another set of Earth pictures.

With a frame count that ends in the photo used above in the magazine.

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.

We already know that the ESSA time over Africa would be early morning on the 7th, and we therefore have another example of photographs that are consistent not only with the weather patterns described by the crew, but consistent with satellite images taken at the same time, and that also  show a consistency with the mission flight path.

As an aside, we’ve now got a complete collection of photographs showing the area covered by the Landsat image (figure 4.9.1-2.10)), so let’s see how they all compare in figure 4.9.1-2.22.

The time has been set largely thanks to this remark in the transcript:

005:08:38 Evans: Houston, magazine November November's on about 123 right now.

Which marks the end of the Blue Marble sequence. Evans’ words suggests he was in charge of the camera, but Schmitt is n record as saying he took it, eg in this video.

“The Blue Marble photograph I took as part of a long series of photographs that were documenting my weather observations of the earth. That was one of my major activities I had planned to do, it wasn't in the flight plan but I plan to do as an amateur meteorologist to look at the weather patterns of the Southern Hemisphere and how they not only what they were but how they developed over the course of three days".

No doubt Cernan also stakes a claim to it somewhere!

While we’re here, it’s worth addressing a common flat earth claim about this photo, that somehow the blue marble doesn’t show what it should. These morons usually claim that too much is hidden, or that not enough daylight is being shown. They seem to forget that because Earth is a sphere, you can’t see bits beyond the horizon, and that just because something isn’t visible it doesn’t mean that it’s dark. Here’s a map of what the daylight area should be at the time of the photo (figure 4.9.1-2.13).

Figure 4.9.1-2.13: Projected daylight area for the blue marble image, blue line shows approximately what is visible.