Solar System Postcards

Lunar landscapes

It may seem silly to assign great value to the emotional power of photos taken by future astronauts. Scientists will say that only experimental results matter and that beautiful pictures are little more than fantasy. If cameras are part of an experiment, they are only useful insofar as the resulting images can be quantified – precisely measured, scaled and calibrated to produce useful numbers. But that’s a sterile view of science, which amounts to pretending that style has nothing to do with automobiles.

As an example of the importance of art, consider the photograph taken by Bill Anders on December 24, 1968. He and fellow astronauts Frank Borman and Jim Lovell were orbiting the Moon – the first humans to do so – on Apollo 8. As they circled the lunar farside, Anders saw Earth’s disk looming above the horizon. Sensing a “Kodak moment,” he grabbed some color film, loaded it into his modified Hasselblad 500 camera, and snapped a picture. The resulting photo, Earthrise, is one of the most recognizable images ever taken. It’s more than a striking photo of two worlds. It shows the Earth as a ball of jewels, lost in an ocean of empty darkness.

Although approximately 6,000 photos were taken by the select few chosen to take giant leaps forward for humanity, these images were as much documentation as art. But imagine the future, the pictorial possibilities if you dared to climb Mont Huygens, the highest peak on the Moon. It’s an 18,000-foot (5,500-meter) climb, and you’ll need special wetsuits and an oxygen supply (it’ll be BYOO no matter where you venture beyond Earth).

Mount Huygens rivals Mount Kilimanjaro in height, although it can claim far fewer wildlife. And because Mount Huygens is part of a chain, Montes Appenninus, there would be satisfying views of the lesser peaks on either side. There would also be views of large flat areas, including Mare Imbrium, the Sea of ​​Rains. On Earth, the rule of thumb is that it takes one hour to climb 1,000 feet (305 m). It would therefore take two days to climb to the top of this dusty massif.

Another point: given that the Moon has a diameter barely greater than 1/4 of that of the Earth, the horizon will be closer. Even from a mountain you will not watch a huge strip of territory. On Earth, the horizon as seen from an 18,000-foot (5,500 m) mountain is approximately 164 miles (264 kilometers). On the Moon, it is 86 miles (138 km). On smaller worlds, it will look like there’s an edge you might fall on, especially since the horizon won’t be blurred by mist.

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