One of the most — if not the most — famous images taken in space is "Earthrise," a photo of the Earth taken by the Apollo 8 crew as they rounded the back side of the Moon. Today, NASA has released an incredible new version of that same type of image, this time taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a spacecraft that has been studying the moon since 2009.
The LRO, as its known, uses a narrow angle camera to study fine details on the lunar surface. But the team behind it were able to turn that camera toward the Earth and rifle off a number of images in succession. Those were combined to make the mosaic image we see here.
The narrow angle camera takes images in black and white, so the spacecraft's wider angle camera — which shoots in color — was used to capture the colorful light that reflects off of our planet.
"The colors are only approximately what an intrepid explorer would see from the Moon," the researchers write in a blog post on the Arizona State website, "because the human eye is fully sensitive to all colors across the visible wavelength range, whereas the [wide angle camera] sees through a set of narrow band filters," the researchers write. The team goes on to admit that the compositing and color correction "may be misleading in a purely scientific sense," but emphasize that this is all done for the purpose of creating a photograph that best represents what we'd see if we were on board that spacecraft. (The scientists go into much deeper detail in this blog post, so if you're interested in reading a blow-by-blow description of the process, head there.)
The original Earthrise photo, taken in 1968. (NASA)
The funny thing about calling these types of images is that you would never actually see the Earth rise if you were standing in one spot on the surface of the Moon. The Moon is tidally locked to the Earth, meaning the same side faces our planet at all times. The Earth only actually "rises" over the Moon when you're in motion around the Moon itself. With the LRO currently scheduled to end in 2017, this could be one of the last Earthrise photos we see until NASA sends a crew to orbit the Moon in the mid 2020s.