August 23

Pictures from the Moon


On this day in 1966, Lunar Orbiter 1 took photographs of the Earth.  Our planet looks like a dome in the pictures, its lower two-thirds masked by a rounded shadow as it rises into distant view beyond the lunar surface.  A network of clouds swirls across the lighted portion of the sphere, with oceans and land masses faint beneath the atmospheric veil.

Such pictures are still considered worth taking.  Other satellites continue to aim lenses at our planet, capturing images that convey weather details, subtle changes in the ice caps, or the slow drift of oceans and continents.

The latest Lunar Orbiter follows its pre-programmed path, in line with the iconic 1966 “Earth-Rise” photograph, duplicating the time and angle for the sake of comparison.

The comparison is not good.  As it turns out, 1966 offered a “Before” picture.  The “After” shot depicts, not a healthy dome, but a smaller, cloud-blackened shape, jagged where it should be round, oceans roiling into steam and continents broken into terrible jigsaw shapes.

Lunar Orbiter X-23 transmits the latest series of images back to Earth.  There’s no one there to receive them.