NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Brings 'Earthrise' to Everyone

Imagine yourself in orbit, your spacecraft flying backward with its small window facing down toward the surface of the moon. You peer out, scouring the ash-colored contours of the cratered landscape for traces of ancient volcanic activity. Around you, the silent, velvety blackness of space stretches out in every direction.

The spacecraft rolls over, and you glimpse a sliver of intense light starting to climb over the rough horizon. It might be dawn, except that the bright sliver quickly morphs into an arc of dazzling white swirled with vivid blue and then rises far enough to be recognized as the brilliant, marbled Earth. Captured on film, this breathtaking view becomes the iconic photograph "Earthrise."

On December 24, 1968, three people saw this happen firsthand: Apollo 8 Commander Frank Borman and crew members William A. Anders and James A. Lovell, Jr. Now, in honor of Earth Day 2012, the rest of us can see what that was like in a new NASA visualization, which draws on richly detailed maps of the moon's surface made from data gathered by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).

"This visualization recreates for everyone the wondrous experience of seeing Earth from that privileged viewpoint," says LRO Project Scientist Rich Vondrak of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

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