Very few people in history have had the chance to look back at Earth from the vantage point of the moon. Apollo astronauts did it, but most of us will never have that breathtaking experience. It's a good thing we have a mechanical surrogate to do it for us.
NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is in orbit around the moon. Friday, NASA released a composite image showing a bright Earthrise from the orbiter's perspective. The continents of Africa and South America can be seen beneath swirling cloud patterns.
"The image of the Earth evokes the famous 'Blue Marble' image taken by astronaut Harrison Schmitt during Apollo 17, 43 years ago, which also showed Africa prominently in the picture," NASA's Noah Petro said in a press release.
The image is composed of a series of pictures captured on October 12. The orbiter was hanging out at just 83 miles (134 kilometers) above the moon's far side at the time. NASA says capturing an Earthrise is a challenge that requires some fancy flying. "First the spacecraft must be rolled to the side (in this case 67 degrees), then the spacecraft slews with the direction of travel to maximize the width of the lunar horizon in LROC's Narrow Angle Camera image," the space agency notes.
The orbiter is equipped with cameras that take both high-res black-and-white photos and lower-resolution color photos. Information from the two were combined to build the high-res color image NASA released Friday.
This isn't the first Earthrise photo we've seen, but it is the most vivid. NASA's Lunar Orbiter 1 looked back at our planet from the moon in 1966, capturing a lovely rising Earth in black and white. The crew of Apollo 8 got a more distant view of an Earthrise in 1968. The orbiter's fresh photo may well become the gold standard by which all future Earthrise images are judged.