In 1968, NASA astronauts orbiting the moon noticed an eerie sight out the window: Earth, seemingly small, rising above the horizon of another world.
Lunar Module pilot William Anders took a photo, titled "Earthrise," that pre-dated the famous "Blue Marble" image by several years. It forced humanity to see our home planet in a fresh light, and according to the late nature photographer Galen Rowell, it soon became "the most influential environmental photograph ever taken."
Nearly half a century later, we've moved on to bigger feats like sending probes to Pluto, landing robots on comets and spying on exoplanets. But the moon will always be our first stepping stone into space, a perch for exploration as well as reflection. Even with all the mysteries looming much farther away, we shouldn't forget the majesty of our own moon — or the humbling views it offers of Earth.
A few weeks ago, the Japanese space agency JAXA released a trove of data beautifully illustrating that point. The images were collected by its SELENE lunar probe, which launched in 2007 on a mission to orbit the moon and produce better maps of its surface. The probe was officially nicknamed "Kaguya" in a nod to "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter," an old Japanese folk story (made into an excellent animated film by Studio Ghibli in 2013) about a lunar princess who spends time on Earth.
Kaguya took lots of high-res moon shots during its mission, and as Phil Plait explains at Bad Astronomy, its orbit also allowed for biannual glimpses of Earthrise, similar to the view Anders captured 40 years earlier. JAXA released a video of this in 2008, then intentionally crashed Kaguya into the moon after its mission was complete.
In September 2016, however, the agency released much more visual data from Kaguya. That inspired nature photographer Nicolaus Wegner to compile a new movie of lunar Earthrises. Here is the resulting 2-minute video, titled "Moonshot":
The video features several incredible Earthrise shots, which are less common than moonrises are on Earth. That's because the moon is tidally locked with Earth, so one side is always facing us and one side is always facing away. Earthrises are still possible, though, because the moon undergoes a motion called "libration" in its orbit, allowing for occasional Earthrises from certain areas of its surface.
Wegner's video also features striking imagery of the moon itself. Its battered surface rolls by in surreal detail, with sunlight glancing off ridges and shadows pooling in craters. Wegner did speed up the frame rate and adjust the color balance, Plait points out, but otherwise this is the moon as Kaguya saw it.
Despite the beauty of the moon's bleakness, it's still a stark contrast to the scenery on Earth. From lifeless regolith to the dark, cloudless skies, the difference left a big impression on the Apollo 8 crew, as Command Module pilot Jim Lovell explained during a broadcast from space in 1968.
"The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring," he said, "and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth."