NASA Releases Stunning New High-Definition Image of Earth

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University
Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) recently captured a unique view of Earth from the spacecraft’s vantage point in orbit around the moon.

“The image is simply stunning,” said Noah Petro, Deputy Project Scientist for LRO at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “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.”

In this composite image we see Earth appear to rise over the lunar horizon from the viewpoint of the spacecraft, with the center of the Earth just off the coast of Liberia (at 4.04 degrees North, 12.44 degrees West). The large tan area in the upper right is the Sahara Desert, and just beyond is Saudi Arabia. The Atlantic and Pacific coasts of South America are visible to the left. On the moon, we get a glimpse of the crater Compton, which is located just beyond the eastern limb of the moon, on the lunar farside.

LRO was launched on June 18, 2009, and has collected a treasure trove of data with its seven powerful instruments, making an invaluable contribution to our knowledge about the moon. LRO experiences 12 earthrises every day; however the spacecraft is almost always busy imaging the lunar surface so only rarely does an opportunity arise such that its camera instrument can capture a view of Earth. Occasionally LRO points off into space to acquire observations of the extremely thin lunar atmosphere and perform instrument calibration measurements. During these movements sometimes Earth (and other planets) pass through the camera’s field of view and dramatic images such as the one shown here are acquired.

This image was composed from a series of images taken Oct. 12, when LRO was about 83 miles (134 kilometers) above the moon’s farside crater Compton. Capturing an image of the Earth and moon with LRO’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) instrument is a complicated task. 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. All this takes place while LRO is traveling faster than 3,580 miles per hour (over 1,600 meters per second) relative to the lunar surface below the spacecraft!

The high-resolution Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) on LRO takes black-and-white images, while the lower resolution Wide Angle Camera (WAC) takes color images, so you might wonder how we got a high-resolution picture of the Earth in color. Since the spacecraft, Earth, and moon are all in motion, we had to do some special processing to create an image that represents the view of the Earth and moon at one particular time. The final Earth image contains both WAC and NAC information. WAC provides the color, and the NAC provides high-resolution detail.

“From the Earth, the daily moonrise and moonset are always inspiring moments,” said Mark Robinson of Arizona State University in Tempe, principal investigator for LROC. “However, lunar astronauts will see something very different: viewed from the lunar surface, the Earth never rises or sets. Since the moon is tidally locked, Earth is always in the same spot above the horizon, varying only a small amount with the slight wobble of the moon. The Earth may not move across the ‘sky’, but the view is not static. Future astronauts will see the continents rotate in and out of view and the ever-changing pattern of clouds will always catch one’s eye, at least on the nearside. The Earth is never visible from the farside; imagine a sky with no Earth or moon – what will farside explorers think with no Earth overhead?”

NASA’s first Earthrise image was taken with the Lunar Orbiter 1 spacecraft in 1966. Perhaps NASA’s most iconic Earthrise photo was taken by the crew of the Apollo 8 mission as the spacecraft entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve Dec. 24, 1968. That evening, the astronauts — Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders — held a live broadcast from lunar orbit, in which they showed pictures of the Earth and moon as seen from their spacecraft. Said Lovell, “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.”

  • JS_faster

    “The Earth is never visible from the farside; imagine a sky with no
    Earth or moon – what will farside explorers think with no Earth

    If they are astronomers they will think it is awesome!

  • Christopher James Huff

    Astronomers will be annoyed at the dust and the fact that the moon blocks half the sky at any given time. The far side of the moon is not a good place for astronomy.

  • Obediah Headstrong

    ‘scuse me?

  • JS_faster


  • I think what he is trying to say is that the moon is a harsh, distant, difficult to get to sup optimal location for astronomy

    There are better and cheaper locations giving a better result and value to the astronomy and civilian enthusiast community.

  • therealdmt

    Wow — makes one realize that the Earth is about a million times better than the Moon. Aldrin called it, iirc, a “magnificent desolation” and set his sights afterwards on Mars.

    (Not that I’m against a return to the Moon! It’s “the nearest far away place”, as they used to say, and thus the most practical next destination, wonderful in its own exotic way. But man, it makes the Earth look like a brilliant living jewel)

  • JS_faster

    He’d be wrong. The far side of the Moon is a great place for a radio telescope array and even a good one for a optical one.

  • Good luck, I expect you have investors pounding at the door.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    Investors? Surely you jest. This is Parabolic Arc where the readers expect the government to help foot the bill for everything.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    You are correct about a radio telescope but a space station – based telescope (or even the JWST) would see more.

  • Welcome to the post global warming COP21 world where the investors expect the board of directors to at least do the minimum amount of work necessary to prevent outright catastrophe for the shareholders. You can replace those terms with citizens and elected representatives, and you get the same result.

    Discretionary is for what is left over after you balance the books and do what is necessary to keep the train rolling, which of course includes keeping it on the tracks and keeping the boiler from exploding. That’s quite a task.

    I did my part. I kinda done with trying to fix it anymore. Hopefully tomorrow will go well and I can quit forever. Hopefully no more trains will be going to Utah and back with heavy loads that topple and fall with the slightest upset and cost a fortune to operate and maintain.

  • ThomasLMatula

    As long as it doesn’t provide and problems for the space miners a radio telescope would be fine. But I expect the Sun-Earth L2 would be better for astronomers as it would be out of the way of anything important.

  • JS_faster

    The Moon is a big place. The benefit of using the Moon is that it blocks all of the radio noise from Earth and once placed the antenna elements will stay aligned. I’ve seen proposals to turn the entire back side of the Moon into an interferometic radio telescope with only a few thousand receivers that would have angular resolution of the diameter of the Moon. It is probably the best place in the Solar System for one because its a tidally locked moon, so it still spins around while not having to put up with the glare from its primary.

    Yeah, a shorter wavelength telescope will be handy to have in free space because you can point it at will, But you can build a gigantic optical telescope on the Moon with most of the benefits of a terrestrial one (firm foundation, not needing precision propulsion, etc.) while the benefits of in space observation (no atmosphere).

    If there is any “killer app” that might drive more Moon surface based activity, this is one of them.

  • JS_faster

    Mars is just as much a “magnificent desolation” as the Moon, it just comes in a different hue.

  • Christopher James Huff

    No, it isn’t. The moon blocks half the sky at any given time, rotates, has a gravity field that the optical components have to be supported against, is exposed to temperature extremes and severe power supply challenges, is covered with abrasive dust which migrates around under the influence of electrostatic charges, etc. Putting telescopes on the moon is a waste of telescopes that would be far better instruments in orbit.

    It isn’t even a good place for radio telescopes. Radio will propagate along the surface of the moon due to diffraction and surface wave effects, and human activity will surround the moon with radio emitters. Distance from Earth (Earth-sun L4 or L5, for example) would be far more effective isolation from human interference than using the moon as shielding.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    Why do you think a commercial mining operation would trump a scientific installation? There is no law and there can be no law that allows an actual claim to property on the Moon. Therefore, since you cannot stake a claim which will be recognized, you cannot complain about interference from a radio telescope. A telescope operating under international sanction, however could complain about the “noise” created by an unrecognized mining operation.

  • JS_faster

    All of which can be mitigated against, but orbiting telescopes stay and keep being (more) expensive.

  • JS_faster


  • windbourne

    oh, NASA got the bodies and lenses for 2 (3? ) new space telescopes. I am amazed that nothing has been done with them.

  • windbourne

    Out of curiosity, do you know how come we do not have a telescope on the ISS? I was thinking that it would be ideal to allow ground to control it and see various things.

  • JS_faster

    There are plans, but NASA doesn’t exactly move the wheels of it bureaucracy at a breakneck speed. You could give them the telescope, the sat., the booster, etc. (which Congress does when it allocates funds) and it would still take them years (or decades) to launch it.