A Moment of Science

Earthrise

If you were standing on the moon would you really get to see the earth rise and set?

Earthrise

Photo: NASA

It shows the planet earth apparently rising above the lunar horizon, and was taken by Apollo astronauts standing on the moon.

You’ve probably seen a famous picture that appears on calendars and posters frequently, called “Earthrise.” It shows the planet earth apparently rising above the lunar horizon, and was taken by Apollo astronauts standing on the moon.

Is there a problem with that?

Think about it. Astronauts standing on the moon. Would they see the Earth rise?

Well, we see the moon rise from here because the earth turns. The moon turns also, but it turns at the same rate as it orbits the earth, so the same side is always facing us. If you were standing on the moon and looking up at the earth, you would see it spinning around, but it would never get any lower or higher in the sky.

The same side of the moon always faces the earth, so if you’re standing on that side, you are always facing the earth. There is technically no “earthrise” on the moon.

The famous “earthrise” image was taken from orbit. The Apollo 8 astronauts weren’t standing on the surface in 1968, but zooming around the far side of the moon. For a while the moon blocked earth from their view. Then, as they came around, earth gradually came into view over the lunar horizon, and photographic history was made.

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