4.9.2 - Apollo 17 Day 2 - The Weatherman

The next view of Earth sees the crew firmly over the Pacific, and Australia is just heading into view. Figure shows AS17-148-22737, while figure shows the satellite analysis.

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Figure AS17-148-22737

Figure AS17-148-22737 compared with satellite imagery, 3D reconstructions and SkySafari time depiction.

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. The appearance of Australia in the frame is useful in terms of confirming that suggested time of.

The communications between the crew help to narrow down the time. At just short of 19 hours (00:30) Capcom tell the crew that:

018:58:32 Fullerton: 17, we'll be having a communications handover to Honeysuckle in about a minute and a half.

with Schmitt responding:

018:58:45 Schmitt: That's great. Next time I look at the 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.

Schmitt then gives a lengthy description of what he can see:

019:55:59 Schmitt: Okay. I - at any rate, it looks like there's a very well-developed front coming out of the northwestern portion of Antarctic ice shelf. And [garble] and it - let's see here. Well, stand by 1.

019:56:25 Overmyer: Roger.

019:56:26 Schmitt: Have to change windows. [Long pause.]

019:58:42 Schmitt: Okay, Bob. That front looks like it starts and develops as a small - 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. And I'll give you a spot where it intersects and crosses the whole of Australia. However, it - it breaks up and is not very well formed, once it gets inland away from the coast. I see no well-developed waves on it at this time, so it's hard to say how strong it is. There might be one developing just to the south of New Zealand or right off the coast of New Zealand.

More helpfully for us, we then have this:

020:00:22 Schmitt: I took two 5 - 50-millimeter pictures. Mag November November is on 132.

Which is the time SkySafari has been set at.

020:03:14 Schmitt: Bob, I got our orbital map out now, and 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 northwestern coast of Australia.

That front is identified by the green arrow in figure As before, he describes the scene uncannily accurately, almost as if he was actually looking at it!

He goes on:

020:12:00 Schmitt: Okay. Bob - about revision one on my previous discussion of the weather around Australia. That front does cross - probably Brisbane is probably cloudy. It does cross about 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. But we're getting over near the LM, and that's a little hard to tell.

020:13:03 Schmitt: Now, it - more - looks more and more like the cyclone circulation developing right over the top of New Zealand; the South island, I think. And now I'm looking with the binoc, and as much - that anticyclone circulation is centered on the ice shelf. And I think that - well, I just don't know - I think that's the Ross Ice Shelf, but I'm not sure, off Antarctic. And the clouds from that circulation do extend over the ice shelf and barely into the Antarctic con - continent.

020:13:58 Schmitt: Now to the north of Antarctica. Let's see now. I ought to give you a better orientation than that. But, anyway, 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 just was discussing. By the way, that front intersects Antarctica.

020:16:22 Schmitt: Between New Zealand and Australia, the front I was discussing previously has some fairly strong transverse cloud patterns. It's hard to say whether they're high cirrus or not. But the clear area to the south of the front suggests that maybe the jet stream is roughly paralleling that front in that area.

Sas always, heis description is unerringly accurate.

At 02:20 GMT, Schmitt says:

020:53:30 Schmitt: I've been trying to spot tropical storm Teresa, which 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 from the evening of the 7th that covers the Antarctic region (figure

Figure Google Earth showing Landsat passes over Australia (bottom left). The same locations are shown on AS17-148-22737 (top left). Landsat pass is compared with the same area of AS17-148-22739 second from right) and AS17-148-22737 (far right).

Despite the few hours gap between Landsat’s image and the later Apollo 17 photograph, there are many 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. The coastal cloud in the later photograph is obviously absent in Landsat’s view, but is much less obvious in the earlier Apollo photograph. Certainly the inland cloud is a good match.

As with the preceding image, the first question to settle for figure 4.9.10 is the time at terminator. SkySafari’s figureis given as 04:00, and the main reason for this is, unsurprisingly, Schmitt’s own confirmation:

022:26:02 Schmitt: Okay, I had a quick - quick look and just to bring you up to date, we're starting to be able to see the coast of Asia. The Philippines are wide open today. And the - that tropical storm Theresa that I mentioned 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, although I didn't get a good fix on it, that the folks in Guam may be in for some heavy weather.

022:27:19 Schmitt: Oh, and, Bob, I got another pair of pictures. And that would be up to 134.

Which pretty much nails the time.

xamination 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 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 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, and analysed in figure

Figure AS17-148-22739.

Before assessing the photograph, it’s worth drawing your attention to the area over the Northern Territory , where we have another Landsat image we can examine. Also included is the same section of AS17-148-22737, which was taken only 30 minutes apart from the Landsat one (figure

Figure AS17-148-22739 compared with NOAA2 satellite mosaic from 07/12/72 and SkySafari time depiction. Cyan, green, yellow and red arrows are as in Left is 3D reconstruction using digitally restored NOAA data.

Figure 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 compares the NOAA mosaic versions dated the 6th and 7th with the NOAA image from the MWL dated the 6th.

Figure 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 (you might want to consults an Atlas for a lot of this!):

022:35:06 Schmitt: Okay. Good. Nice to talk with you. Hey, I don't know whether you were around, Gene, the other day when 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 presumably 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.

022:36:32 Schmitt: 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. He starts the discussion with:

022:37:04 Schmitt: On - on that tropical storm that was Theresa, I don't know whether they're still calling it now - that now, but I'm not sure it may be a little south of Guam. Guam may not 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:

022:37:21 Kranz: It looks like it's just a bit to the west of Manila there - about 5 or 6 degrees, no more than that about. It looks like it's about 5 degrees west of Manila and about 5 degrees south. And it is still called Theresa.

To which Jack replies:

022:39:37 Schmitt: Okay, Gene, if you're still there, I don't like to argue with you but I think our analysis chart is a little more up to date.

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:

022:40:27 Kranz: You're over in the area between Guam and the Carolines, then. You're saying it would be just about due west of the Carolines, then. Okay.

022:40:38 Schmitt: Yes, you're probably looking at a - oh, I don't know - maybe a what - a 12-hour old prog, or something?

022:40:44 Kranz: Yes, that's the one I had for launch date.

022:40:49 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 organized but quite concentrated and small.

022:41:02 Kranz: Okay. I'll get a new prog in and compare your estimate there.

022:41:10 Schmitt: Okay. I think that's pretty good - those - 142 and 8 degrees would be pretty good center 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?

022:41:52 Schmitt: Yes, of course, that is Port Moresby. I can see that point there, and between those two - I can pin that one down probably within a couple of degrees.

022:42:02 Kranz: Okay. 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, he then returns to SE Asia:

022:56:33 Schmitt: Okay, Bob. That storm off the - just off the southwest coast of New Zealand is still intensifying and has both high and low level clouds as you can see by shadow lines. It looks like it may go into pretty - pretty fair storm system. Borneo is very clear today; and, as is the Philippines. And as I mentioned, there's a - looks like a very strong frontal system that stretches from, oh, let's say, 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. I can't tell whether Japan is in the front or not. I'll look at it some more. The strongest storm center that I can see on that is - is way north, and probably - Hokkaido is - has a fair amount of weather from that 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.

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:

023:00:59 Schmitt: As I recall, they had a tropical storm called Sally that went into - [garble] 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 may be - be fooled by it.

023:01:49 Schmitt: 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 another front quite a ways inland, but that gets right at the LM, and I can't tell. But Korea, Yellow Sea, and the regions of China south of there - Shanghai , Nanking and those places are - look as if they are quite clear today. I'll check that again next time around.

And later:

023:15:34 Schmitt: Okay, Bob, a little update on the coast of Asia. 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 - the exact coast line of Asia, but I - there are some clouds in the Yellow Sea, behind the front, Look 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:

023:16:34 Schmitt: Okay. 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 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:

023:33:44 Schmitt: Okay, Bob. I'll probably have to work on this one a little more, but - but it looks like 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 a 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 southeast from that general cloud mass, there'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.

023:35:14 Schmitt: Well, my guess is, Bob, and it's purely a guess, is that there - probably - if they were out there right now, would be experiencing an intermediate layer of clouds with scattered showers. And a not too strongly developed circulation system, so I can't predict the winds. But I wouldn't expect them 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 it out there, probably is - is moving in that direction, although it looks weak enough that, 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

Capcom then deliver a bombshell to Schmitt:

023:36:11 Overmyer: Roger. The prog I got in my hand for 3-hour-old weather has Theresa located just about in the Manila 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:

023:36:25 Schmitt: Well, I don't - Manila's clear. The only thing approaching near Manila is - is this other storm center that now 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 guessing 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:

024:36:44 Schmitt: Bob? This is Jack. Your last report for the day as the Earth goes past window 5. The first thing I noticed was that our zero phase point is not nearly as bright on the west coast of Australia as it is on the - was on the east. And it's looking right at the coastline now and see no bright spot in the center. Also, 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 toward Japan. And it - it really looks like a humdinger from here. Beautiful circulation pattern 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):

024:17:53 Schmitt: Okay, Bob. On the film status, we're still where we were, November-November, 134. And 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

Figure AS17-148-22742

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 The full satellite analysis for this image is given in figure

Figure 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 for discussion of dates of the satellite images.

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

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 identifies the locations concerned and shows the image comparison.

Figure AS17-148-22742 shown with the locations of Landsat images (top left), with the  Landsat images shown on Google Earth (above). Burma (centre right right), Korea (bottom right) and Borneo (top right) images shown in comparison with Apollo. Apollo image is 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, and the satellite analysis is shown on in figure

Figure AS17-148-22743

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 SkySafari’s depiction.

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:

033:45:31 Schmitt: Africa, looks in pretty good shape. There is a - except for an area probably around Zambia and Rhodesia in the tropical convergence zone there, where it looks pretty cloudy and probably quite rainy. There's a very strong circulation pattern and presumably a storm off - just off the coast of northwest Africa. Very spectacular spiral formation of clouds in a cyclone development. It looks like there are probably two fairly weak cyclones - southern hemisphere cyclones in the South Atlantic. One, southwest of Cape of Good Hope, and the other about due west of - 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 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.

Shortly after that description he confirms the time at which he took the photograph:

034:29:28 Schmitt: Gordy, film update on mag November November. I'm on frame 138, and that includes a couple of pictures I mentioned to Bob I took just before I went to sleep. And also, two pictures this morning at about 33:30. Those are the Earth.

33:30 converts to 15:03 GMT, so my SkySafari version is just about bang on.

Again we have a series of Landsat passes covering the area, figure shows where they are.

Figure AS17-148-22743 compared with NOAA2 satellite mosaic, and SkySafari time depiction. Also shown is a 3D reconstruction using digitally restored NOAA data.

Figure 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

Figure Comparisons of Landsat passes with AS17-148-22743  - Antarctica (above), South Africa (right), Central Africa (centre right and West Africa (far right). Apollo image has been brightness adjusted and rotated 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.

One final look at this photograph is to use the satellite photograph published in the Guardian on 09/12/72, using the satellite image from the 8th (figure

It’s not the clearest of images, but it is recognisable, and it’s more proof that the satellite images were not a secret and could not have been manipulated to match Apollo as some claim.

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):

038:34:05 Schmitt: And about 15 minutes ago, Gordy, I took two more Hasselblad shots of the Earth.

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 Also included is  AS17-162-24047 from the Nikon 35mm film.

The satellite analysis of the Hasselblad image is given in figure 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 Satellite image printed in The Guardian compared with the same area of AS17-148-22743. Source.

Figure AS17-148-22745 (lefft) and AS17-162-24047 (above)

Figure AS17-148-22745 compared with NOAA2 mosaic, SkySafari time depiction and 3D reconstruction. Left is AS17-162-24047 using the same arrows.

As far as dating the image is concerned, the SkySafari depiction 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 overexposed Nikon.

In terms of what can be seen,  we may as well let Jack do the talking again. His opening statement at around 19:40 GMT is:

038:19:40 Schmitt: Okay, Gordy, going from south to north on noontime, at least our noontime weather, 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 southwest, north - northeast. No strong weather waves or cyclone development on that yet, although one may be picking up about 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 still looks like pretty good weather. There is cloudiness along the Andean Ridge and also in the Amazon Basin, stretching from the eastern coast of South America on up about, oh, two-thirds 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. I think I mentioned that earlier in the day. And that still is there, and I suspect those folks are getting a fair amount of weather out of it.

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.

038:22:00 Schmitt: Except for scattered clouds, Central America and Mexico, for the most part, are clear - as is most of the Caribbean islands - Cuba and the 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 and 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 then 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 across the panhandle of Florida, up the East Coast and on out past Nova Scotia, I'm sure. Florida is clear. Florida - the peninsular portion of Florida is - it looks very clear and some of the deep turquoise green waters to the south and southeast of that area are - are very obvious at this time.

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 by the professionals:

038:25:11 Fullerton: No, I haven't. I was just told, Jack, that the - the weathermen and a lot of other people around here, too, are following your weather reports with great interest.

Jack comments on Houston’s damp weather before casting his gaze elsewhere in the US

038:26:11 Schmitt: Okay. Well, I suspect comparable weather extends all the way across the eastern United States. That looks like awful dense clouds, although there's no obvious frontal pattern. It just stretches from the Midwest to the East Coast. And, also, there's no good indication of stratification of those clouds, as if they'd be fairly - fairly thick up into the cirrus levels.

038:26:52 Schmitt: Looks like Arizona, New Mexico, and northern Sonora probably have some - one band of high cirrus. But other than that, probably a beautiful day out in that area.

038:27:19 Schmitt: There's some transverse cloud patterns over the Mississippi-Alabama area. It suggests maybe that the jetstream may be just north of that region. But otherwise, there's no good indication of jetstream position right now.

038:29:11 Schmitt: Gordy, there is one minor weather disturbance, possibly just about over Puerto Rico or maybe just - just to the east of that island. No strong circulation patterns, although there's a hint of a cyclone development. There might be just a small depression in that area. I don't know whether your maps are carrying anything down there or not.

038:29:45 Fullerton: I think I see what you're talking about on the satellite picture, but I don't have a surface analysis that goes that far. I do - I just now got a copy of the surface charts for the United States. And there's - there's a front stretching from northern Texas northeastward up through Tennessee and Virginia and another one sort of parallel to it. But, this way southward from Louisiana along the Gulf Coast across northern Florida and on out into the Atlantic. And I guess the two are kind of blending together to make that irregular mass of clouds you mentioned.

So while the crew don’t have a satellite picture, what with them being on the way to the moon, th ground clearly do, but even that isn’t enough to help explain what Schmitt is relaying back to them. He continues his observations.

038:31:23 Schmitt: You got anything on there coming in from the northwest now, say up in Wyoming and Colorado?

038:31:38 Fullerton: The way it's drawn on this surface charts shows that - that northern front that I mentioned, just now, sort of curving on up through central Colorado, and then bending westward toward - through Utah. That's about the only other frontal activity. There's one, probably dry front, then a short one through central Arizona and southern Utah.

038:32:15 Schmitt: Okay. Well, that makes sense. That would match with that - what I was thinking was high cirrus in Arizona. And also I can see how you could bend - that's the northern front up through Colorado and then back westward to explain the patterns we're seeing in the clear areas south of that.

038:33:04 Schmitt: Gordy, the zero-phase point now is off the coast of Chile and Ecuador - oh, maybe 10 or 15 degrees of longitude, and it is fairly dull. It does not seem to indicate any great amount of choppiness or wave action in that area.

The zero phase point is the spot of bright sunlight reflecting back off the ocean, and if you go back and check, you ‘ll see exactly what he means.

And finally we get confirmation of when he took the photographs.

038:34:05 Schmitt: And about 15 minutes ago, Gordy, I took two more Hasselblad shots of the Earth.

At around 20:15 GMT, Schmitt goes back to the southern hemisphere to describe the scene there:

038:49:04 Schmitt: Gordy, let me try to give you a description of something that is a little bit unusual than what we've been seeing. The - there's an axis that runs from, say, the outer portion of the Ross ice shelf 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 linear 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.

038:50:38 Schmitt: 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. Quite striking.

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.

038:51:07 Schmitt: Now there's some indications, to me at any rate, that the jetstream in that area may be essentially east-west - oh, maybe 20 degrees of latitude north of the Ross Sea, and then bends down very sharply so that it intersects the - or approaches the coa- Antarctic ice shelf to the east of the Ross Sea, and then maybe it bends up and forms the axis that I just described that's causing that bending of the cloud patterns.

038:52:09 Schmitt: There's a linear clear area in that area north of the Ross Sea that - and to the north of that is a sharply defined front that I talked about earlier. And then, both the - that front continues. The clear area is cut off by the axis that I described, a cloud axis.

038:52:36 Schmitt: Now that should show up real well on the 250-millimeter pictures we took. Gordy, I'm back looking at zero-phase. And now, apparently, the exact zero-phase was partially obscured by a cloud pattern earlier. Now, when I - There is a very, very small bright spot in the center of the zero-phase area. Nothing comparable to what I described off the coast of Australia yesterday, but an extremely small spot. I suspect that the size of your bright spot in zero-phase has some direct - or indirect, at any rate, relationship to sea state.


038:55:51 Schmitt: Gordy, as you might expect, the whole coastline of Chile is - or all of Chile, practically, is clear. Beautifully exposed to us here, particular the Atacama Desert, which is noted for that particular characteristic, and - at least among geologists it is. And the coast of Peru is also clear with clouds following the Andean 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.

His 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 shows the areas identified on the Apollo image and Google Earth.

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, but first up examines whether we can be sure we have the right area by looking at an extremely brightness adjusted close-up of the image.

Figure Landsat images shown on Google Earth and AS17-148-22745.

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 gulf and coast identified in figure

Figure 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.

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. Of those two, the Yucatan peninsula one is the most like Apollo. We also have to bear in mind the timing of the images - 15:46 for the Gulf 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.

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, which means that the next Earth view is taken on the 9th. Click the link to see it. It’s worth pointing out here that the AFJ relies on this comment:

040:53:01 Evans: Hey, Jack, if you get a chance, take a picture back this way.

As Schmitt enters the LM to put a time of of around 22:00 to the above photos, but this would put much more of South America in darkness. It looks like Jack forgot.

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

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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 - 13/12/72 Synoptic