Watchmen: they need my help

By Phil Plait | January 22, 2009 4:24 pm

A lot of people are getting pretty fired up about the Watchmen movie coming out any year now. This movie is based on the epic superhero graphic novel (comic book series to you) by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. I read it, and it’s pretty good. I had some problems with the ending, but I’ll save my comments for when the movie comes out.

Anyway, a new image was just released by the producers of the movie, and it shows a picture of Neil Armstrong on the Moon… taken by Dr. Manhattan, an ex-human who, through an atomic accident, became a glowing blue being of pure energy:

Pretty cool, eh? Yeah, but the debunker in me just has to point something out…

See the out-of-focus Earth on the left side of the picture? From the Moon, the Earth is about 2 degrees across, roughly four times the size of the Moon as seen from Earth. In the picture you can see the Earth is only a degree or two off the lunar horizon.

But that’s wrong! The Moon always shows one face as seen from the Earth, and that means the Earth is always in roughly the same part of the sky from a spot on the Moon. To see the Earth that close to the horizon means the Apollo 11 landing would have to have been very close to the Moon’s north or south pole (hard to tell which; the features on the Earth are too blurred to get a direction).

However, Apollo 11 landed almost exactly on the Moon’s Equator. To Buzz and Neil, the Earth was high overhead, difficult to see at all from inside the spacesuits.

Obviously, the Watchmen picture is faked.

[Update: Max Fagin in the comments makes a good point: there is a circle around the Moon where the Earth would be near the horizon, the divider between the near and far side of the Moon. But landing near there would be dangerous; for your first landing you want to be sure you are in direct visual contact with Earth, otherwise you can’t communicate. That means landing near the center of the Moon’s face. Assuming this was Apollo 17 (see below) changes that, but then why would Manhattan be there to take a picture of the 11th or 12th guy on the Moon? I don’t buy it. And, as Brian Schlosser points out in the comments, this is definitely Apollo 11.]

A nice touch is the code on the side of the picture: AS17-137-20990. That’s the coding NASA used for the pictures taken on the Moon. But… AS17 was used for Apollo 17, not 11. In fact, there is an Apollo picture taken with that code, and it’s a famous one, showing orange dust on the Moon. The orange color is from tiny glass particles that are volcanic in origin (the story of them finding the orange dust is pretty cool, and you can read about it on the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal).

I don’t know if the movie guys put that particular number there on purpose or not, but they screwed up the code.

I’m sure if I analyzed the picture more I’d find more stuff, but my geekery does have limits. Of course, if someone wants to examine the geometry of Dr. Manhattan holding the camera waist-high and the resulting tilt and angles of the picture, be my guest. I’ll just wait for the movie and think it’s cool either way.

The photo is from The New Frontiersman Flickr set. They have reserved all rights, so I have not copied it; the image above is linked directly from Flickr.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Debunking, SciFi, TV/Movies

Comments (75)

  1. Obviously because of the alternate history, NASA decided to send Neil Armstrong on Apollo 17, which landed in a different location than in our history.

  2. Max Fagin

    “To see the Earth that close to the horizon means the Apollo 11 landing would have to have been very close to the Moon’s north or south pole (hard to tell which; the features on the Earth are too blurred to get a direction)”

    Why only on the lunar poles? Wouldn’t they just have to be anywhere on the moons “edge?” (by edge, I mean the edge of the moon as it is seen from the Earth. The terminator when the moon is full.)

  3. Jase

    Dr Manhattan, being able to manipulate matter at a sub-atomic level, and generally being omnipotent, probably moved the Earth (or the Moon) for a tiny fraction of a second just to make a nicer picture.

    That’s the problem with imaginary omnipotent beings… you can pretty much explain away any level of illogicality.

  4. Jorde

    I’m am surprised there are no stars in the photo, would have figured that to be a sure thing.

    Can’t tell for certain, but the pareidolia in says that is a picture of the Earth showing North America on top of South America.

  5. “That’s the problem with imaginary omnipotent beings… you can pretty much explain away any level of illogicality.”

    @Jase, that made me LOL IRL! Thanks for the laugh. 😀

  6. mus

    one thing I noticed is that the blue guy is on the right side of the helmet. Seeing how the helmet is convex, I don’t think that would be possible. It should be on the center or to the left.

  7. Anonymoose

    You realize, don’t you, that you’re getting your nose bent out of shape over a fictional situation an a fictional character in a lame superhero movie?

    You really need to find something PRODUCTIVE to do with your time, pal.

  8. mus

    oh oh oh, another thing. If that guy is pure energy, why is he casting a shadow?

  9. Bob Stephens

    Why is the horizon reflected in the visor in focus, yet the horizon over Neil’s shoulder out of focus? Why is the shadows reflected in the visor going roughly in the same direction as the shadows on the flag?

  10. Does the camera have to be shielded? I mean, a being of pure energy *can’t* be all that good for unexposed film…

  11. JSW

    Would someone who glows like Osterman does in that picture cast a shadow like the one we see?

  12. Even with this graphic proof of faked moon photos, do you still believe that the moon landings were real? Rorschach would never approve.

  13. Phil, you will be pleased to know that I’ve already poked Watchmen’s science consultant for this. I shall demand proper explanation from him.

  14. JB of Brisbane

    It is also worth mentioning the angle of the sunlight on “Armstrong” compared with the nearly full Earth behind him – or is that light from the “pure energy” dude?

    @Romeo Vitelli – hopefully you are being facetious, but if you are not, don’t fall for the fallacy of “This photo was faked, therefore they all are”.

  15. Ross

    “Obviously because of the alternate history, NASA decided to send Neil Armstrong on Apollo 17, which landed in a different location than in our history.”

    Damn, beat me to it.

    Also, Doc Manhattan is still solid, so he’d still cast a shadow. Whether his own glow would effect that shadow I can’t say.

  16. The helmet visor should be tinted gold, not silver. And the suit should be pressurized to 4.5 to 5 psid. This looks like a skinny astronaut with a flabby suit.

  17. Drunk Vegan


    That’s something they got right. You cannot see stars from the surface of the moon in the *Daytime.*

    Even though there’s no atmosphere, the sun is way too bright for that.

  18. The helmet has side shades that were not used until Apollo 12.

  19. I am IN LOVE with the utter geekery on this post!!!

  20. Diego

    Meng beat me to it.

    I think the history of the Watchmen Verse was reasonably similar to our own up until the creation of Dr. Manhattan (except for the costumed vigilantes in their 1940s). After that the histories start to diverge rapidly, most notably in the technological development that was presumably spurred on by Manhattan. I’m pretty sure they allude to that at some point in the graphic novel.

    So the short answer is that we don’t know if the Apollo program even stayed on the same schedule as in our timeline. Certainly details like crew and landing site could have been changed.

    And Jorde– don’t forget that it’s hard to take photos of people at night on the earth and get stars in the shot. The exposures needed for photographing stars are different than for taking shots of people.

  21. Max: good point, and I’ve updated the post. I’m not buying the idea that this was Apollo 17, either. That’s a retcon, guys. This was obviously meant to be the first landing.

  22. I’ve had a problem with the existence of the Apollo program in the Watchmen universe since the first time I read the book. Didn’t Dr. Manhattan’s existence preclude the need to demonstrate the ability to land payloads anywhere we wanted? (Though the fact the Dr. Manhattan’s existence didn’t preclude the nuclear arms race at all suggests the answer is “no”.)

  23. Your Name's Not Bruce?

    Max Fagin said:

    Why only on the lunar poles? Wouldn’t they just have to be anywhere on the moons “edge?” (by edge, I mean the edge of the moon as it is seen from the Earth. The terminator when the moon is full.)

    I think it would have to be at the poles. From illumination of the Earth in the photo, it looks like the rotational axis is pretty much perpendicular to the lunar horizon. That’s only going to happen (I think) near the poles. At the “edge” of the visible- from-Earth moon at the lunar equator, the Earth’s rotational axis would be mostly parallel to the lunar horizon. (Think of the Apollo 8 “Earthrise photo.) Anywhere in between the lunar pole and equator, the angle of the Earth’s axis would be somwhere between these two extremes.

  24. No red commander stripe on Neil’s arm?

  25. Luna 7tic

    I always thought the famous “Earthrise” picture was taken on the surface… 😉 Anyway, that’s one thing to debunk. You never (you need to be around the “edge” of lunation to see the Earth rise and set in rather quick succession) see an Earthrise on the Moon. You can see an Earthrise on other planets though. On the outer planets Earth is just like Venus and Mercury, only a bit farther away from the Sun, while on the inner planets (let’s assume you’re above Venus’ atmosphere) Earth seems like just another outer planet, wandering across the sky just like Mars, only a bit faster.

    If Venus or Mercury had an atmosphere like ours and there were cythereans or hermesians (that is Venusians or Mercurians), they might have sooner discovered the true shape of the solar system and Newtonian physics, as Earth’s retrograde motion across the sky must be even greater than that of Mars. Of course one cytherean thinker would have had to have fled the plague to the countryside and seen a flytrap-fruit drop… and the compare it to what celestial body’s motion?

  26. Luna 7tic

    Petrucio, it has been established a long ago, that Neil had no stripes on his suit, as can be seen on the footage. The red stripes for mission commander’s EVA suits came in the 1970s missions.

  27. Rob in PA

    let’s see…

    The flag in on the wrong side of the LM…my memory is that it was to the left of the ladder when viewed from inside the cockpit.

    I can’t remember any photos from the surface that had this shallow a depth of field. It was so bright that they kept the apertures really narrow, and I imagine the scientists wanted a great depth anyway for their study. So the blury earth and flag don’t make sense…armstrong would be overexposed.

    Something about the ladder doesn’t look right… wouldn’t you be able to see the porch at the top??

    I don’t think the commander “red stripe” suits were worn on this mission, but I could be wrong.

    this is fun!

  28. Luna 7tic

    I think the best test for any lunatic doubters would be to get the same cameras used on the Apollo missions, go out to a desert and take a picture. Then compare them with those taken on the Moon (that has no atmosphere). Will the horizon be clear? Will it seem so close by, even though it is far away? Do they do that? No. They just sit on their asses.

  29. Luna 7tic

    Oh yeah, The Game. Damn, just lost it. You lost it too, I just mentionied it.

  30. fransisco4

    I could be mistaken, but if we were to believe Wikipedia then the space suit that appears in this picture looks nothing like the original one.

  31. JTDC

    GAH! DR MANHATTAN DIDN’T DO THAT KIND OF THING EVER! Plus, they could just, you know, send him there to outright get everything they wanted. If they asked. And he always did what the government asked of him. So, yeah.

    Another reason to suspect that this movie will SUCK.

  32. JTDC

    Oh, and if he was there, they wouldn’t bother with spacesuits–he would simply create and maintain an atmosphere around them. And negate incoming radiation. He’s cool like that.

  33. Well, as the science consultant for the Watchmen film, Melissa has directed me to this image and the furor.

    There is of course a simple explanation for the discrepancy regarding the location of the Earth in the photo above. Namely – that this is a historically accurate photograph – in the Watchmen universe! History makes a major divergence with the the appearance of the Minutemen, and especially with the birth of Dr. Manhattan. The 25th (or whatever it is) amendment of the Constitution is repealed, and Nixon is elected to four or five terms. Woodward and Bernstein are killed in a mysterious accident, that can not be directly connected to the Comedian. And man first walked on the moon on the trip of Apollo 17, where they landed on the edge of the moon, to create a striking photo.

    It’s the perfect “get out of jail free” card – anything that is the same as our history is intentional, and anything different is intentional!

    By the way – I had not seen that image before, and was not consulted on it. They wanted some background info on how labs looked in 1959, in 1985, and how certain processes might work. Unlike other films based on novels, or even on comic books, for Watchmen they had a very detailed set of images that they tried to reproduce as closely and faithfully as possible. If that image had been in the comic – rest assured that a thousand physics professors grumping would not have deterred them from recreating the image exactly as Dave Gibbons drew it.

    Unless it concerns a squid. They apparently don’t mind pissing both Watchmen fans, and PZ Myers off.


    Your Friendly Neighborhood Physics Professor,


  34. After posting – I see that Diego makes essentially the same points.

  35. Ken_g6

    I checked, and Apollo 17 (in our timeline) was the only mission with a scientist (Harrison H. ‘Jack’ Schmitt, a geologist, and whose slip with a sample grabber, by the way, is a really good example showing that the moon landings weren’t faked). There’s even a picture of him with the Earth, in the Wikipedia article on Apollo 17!

    Anyway, Dr. Manhattan was a scientist at one time. Maybe at some point in their careers, the two of them were colleagues or friends.


    OK,point 1: Melissa, you get a BIG kiss next time we meet.

    Point 2) Jim Kakalios, thanks for posting. But what would you have said if Max and I hadn’t explained the nearside/farside edge bit first? :)

    What I hadn’t considered is that Apollos 1-16 were test flights, with 17 being the first to land. In reality that never would have worked; NASA would have had its head handed to it had they waited that long… especially when Dr. M could’ve blinked or twitched his nose or whatever and teleported them there anyway.

    And of course, the fun in this is pointing out discrepancies with known reality and science; that’s what I do.

    But Jim, if you do have any astronomy questions, you know where to come…

  37. The Mutt

    For Dr. Manhattan, waist-high is however high he wants it to be.

  38. Chip

    Wait a minute – Using much more primitive technology, the crew of Destination Moon apparently landed in the craggy crater Bonestell on the Moon’s North Pole way back in 1950:

  39. I can’t really tell because of the curve of the helmet visor, but it also looks like Dr. Manhattan’s shadow isn’t in the same direction as the dark side of the Earth
    (That is I think his shadow should be pointed more towards the Astronaut)
    Also…what the hell is that other shadow at the base of the visor?

  40. Nentuaby

    While we’re playing “spot the technical inaccuracy”, isn’t Doc M’s glow awfully diffuse for being in a vacuum?

  41. JTDC,
    Oh, and if he was there, they wouldn’t bother with spacesuits–he would simply create and maintain an atmosphere around them. And negate incoming radiation. He’s cool like that.

    Yeah, as long as he didn’t forget to do that. Like he sometimes did. Forgetting on Mars – well, that was just a simple matter of Laurie holding her breath against the extremely low pressure of the Martian atmosphere, and then Jon reversing the effects of the Bends and the simultaneous rupturing of all of Laurie’s alveoli and stuff like that. If he forgot about the requirements of his fellow travelers on the Moon, they would be seriously dead.

  42. tech

    The shadow of Dr. Manhattan seems to be to his immediate left, so the Sun must be to his immediate right. If the Earth is straight ahead, haven’t we made a right triangle? If the Sun is illuminating that much of the Earth, the Sun is closer than the Earth. Ouch!

    No such thing as an off-centered reflection from a sphere.

  43. “what would you have said if Max and I hadn’t explained the nearside/farside edge bit first? ”

    Ummm…. that it was all Zack Snyders fault? Yeah – that’s it!

    “What I hadn’t considered is that Apollos 1-16 were test flights, with 17 being the first to land. In reality that never would have worked; NASA would have had its head handed to it had they waited that long… especially when Dr. M could’ve blinked or twitched his nose or whatever and teleported them there anyway.”

    Perhaps everyone was distracted by Vietnam becoming the 51st state? That might have taken the pressure off of NASA.

    This image does not appear in the comic, and is only in the film during the opening credit sequence, I believe. Following the Comedian’s death (oh wait – spoiler alert) there is a long montage during the opening credits that shows how the world and history has been altered by the presence of costumed superheroes. For example, there’s a shot of one of the Minutemen, Sillouette, kissing a nurse in times Square on V-J Day, instead of the sailor in the iconic photo. So the idea is as they get closer to 1985 (the year the film is set) we see man walking on the moon, and just as you wonder who is holding the camera, you see Dr. Manhattan’s reflection.

    “And of course, the fun in this is pointing out discrepancies with known reality and science; that’s what I do.
    But Jim, if you do have any astronomy questions, you know where to come…”

    I would consider no other authority for Astronomy questions. Right back atcha’ for physics!

    OK – enough with the mutual admiration. I’m getting misty!



  44. Brian

    And don’t forget that Moonbase Alpha is located in the far north (Plato crater, supposedly), so that the Earth can be shown dramatically low on the lunar horizon beyond the base in the opening credits. :)

  45. I made this illustration to, um, illustrate some things about the picture:
    I couldn’t make a good deconstruction of the length of shadow for lack of a good anti-convexing tool, but the sun should be coming in at about 22-23° from horizontal, making for very long shadows (close to 5m for a 2m tall person). Convex reflectors are hard to intuit that way.

  46. By the way, I’ve seen the first 20 minutes of the film, and I’m cautiously optimistic. The opening montage is amazing. If the film manages to maintain that same level of quality throughout, it will be damn near perfect.

    Well, tonally perfect, if not scientifically perfect. *grin*

    Dr. Jim — Got plans to see the film on opening night, by any chance? If so, I’m totally calling dibs on the seat next to you.

  47. In real life, even though Apollo 17 saw the Earth closest to the Moon’s horizon, Earth was still far overhead. Note that Cernan had to get on his knees to get a picture of the flag pointing at the Earth AS17-134-20384.

    BTW, here’s some actual hoaxers scrutinizing the horizon angle.

    Granted that in the Watchmen universe, the landing could have been anywhere on the near side in any year, there’s still the question of why there’s a spindly LM when Dr. Manhattan could’ve teleported an entire building.

  48. Dave Jerrard

    I haven’t read all the comments on this yet, but here’s my immediate observations:
    Earth is too low, for reasons already pointed out.
    Earth is too big for the field of view. If this was a long lens, then there would be a reduced perspective effect in the image; it would feel flattened. The flag would either appear to be right behind Neil (it would appear larger), or out of focus differently from the horizon.

    The reflection in the visor WOULD appear sharp like it does. It’s a convex surface, and like a concave lens, would tend to sharpen distant images. I’m near-sighted, so I experience this every day. :)

    Dr. Manhattan’s shadow is wrong. It should be streaming toward the area directly lower center in the visor. This is based on the lighting of the Earth, which puts the sun roughly 45 degrees behind the camera.

    The landscape in the reflection appears to be another lunar photograph. There’s a strong retro reflection going on in it on the ground, indicating the sun was directly behind the camera at that point in the photograph. You can see the shadow of of something in the foreground of that image as well – the buggy maybe? This retro-reflection could also be the result of the glow that was added, since there are objects in the distance that have shadows falling to the left, nearly parallel to the film plane. Something’s definitely not right there.

    There should be stronger lighting on the space suit. He’s standing in direct sunlight.

    The reflection of the camera should be dead center in the visor. It would appear in the surface that is most directly facing the camera, and on a spherical surface, that’s always dead center.

    Other than that, and some technical details (mission numbers, etc.), that’s about all i can catch with this image size. Well done image though.

    He Who Has Been Setting Up Earth Rise Images Himself This Week.

  49. Mighty Favog

    You mentioned the ending of Watchmen being a problem…apparently you’re not the only one who thinks so. Test screenings revealed that the ending has been changed. Zak Snyder, the writer/director, confirmed that the test screen ending is what we will see in theaters. I won’t reveal it here, but the new ending makes a lot more sense and plays off of the relationships and personalities of the characters better.

  50. nowoo

    The phase of the earth seen from the moon is roughly the opposite of the phase of the moon seen from earth. We see a nearly full earth in the picture, so only a sliver of the moon (seen from earth) is in sunlight. Armstrong and Manhattan are in sunlight, so they are in the sliver between the terminator and the far side of the moon. From this position, the earth would always be low in the sky. Am I correct so far?

  51. Eddie

    Hey, you guys certainly demonstrate how hard it would be to pull off a Moon Landing illusion. Odd though, never yet been on the moon yet, immediately, that full Earth looks wrong.

  52. morning all,

    I work at PPC, the marketing agency rolling out the New Frontiersman campaign (Phil, I’m a pal of Gia’s, she can confirm that I speak the truth :)

    Normally we wouldn’t comment, but this is not a normal blog post, and I’m so enthused by all the comments (especially the fact that Watchmen’s science consultant has now weighed in) that I thought I’d add my tuppence ha’penny.

    The image was supplied to us with about a gazillion other production stills and images we’ve been working through and drawing upon. (Which, for someone who wrote their dissertation on Watchmen, is more fun than laughing.)

    I can confirm that we haven’t changed anything of the core composition of the image – you find it as we received it in that respect. I never really paid much attention in Physics classes, so everything you’re saying about the relative position and trajectory of the moon and the sun and the stars is all going WAAAY over my head.

    I can also confirm that we DID treat the image to make it resemble the stock used in that particular model of camera. And as to the question of the coding on the side of the film, this was a detail introduced by the designer on our team who artworked this piece, and I commended him at the time for his meticulous attention to detail.

    However, learning from you that he has made the schoolboy error of using the Apollo 17 code rather than that of Apollo 11, it looks as though he and I will need to have a stern chat first thing this morning. That, it seems, was our mistake ≠)

  53. dre

    I think we all agree that there are lots of nits to pick with the image. What bothers me most is what several have mentioned already: the reflection of Manhattan should be in the nearest part of the visor, not off to one side. That really jumps out as a mistake to me. I’m not knockin’ Watchmen, though. It’s one of my all-time favorite comics.

  54. Brian Schlosser, Lurker

    I feel it necessary to point out that Neil is wearing the Apollo XI mission patch, not the Apollo XVII patch…

  55. Winter Solstice Man

    What was the astronaut’s reaction to seeing a big blue guy on the Moon taking his photo?

    Maybe Dr. Manhattan was making up for Aldrin’s lack of photos of Armstrong?

  56. Joe Meils

    The “Earth near the horizion” thing has always bothered me about movies where scenes take place on the moon. But, I figure it’s a “movie-isim”… the same reason that, if you are shooting a scene in Washington DC, any window in the room will be a view of the Capitol, or if you are in Paris, you will see the Eiffel Tower outside, or the Kremlin if in the USSR…

  57. Dr. Manhattan should appear in the center of the faceplate, not on the edge. If what he holds is what took the picture. Just sayin’

  58. Your Name's Not Bruce?

    If you want to have some fun with the relative positions of Earth , sun, moon, spacecraft , horizon, etc. watch all the lunar sequences of 2001: a Space Odyssey. If you watch it early in the day you’ll see six impossible things before breakfast….

  59. Michael Wilce

    … and the blue glowy guy (Dr. Manhattan?) appears to be looking down at the camera?
    There’s no waist level finder on Apollo Hasselblads.

    True it’s just a fantasy film about some parallel universe. But if they’re going to say “Neil
    Armstrong on the occasion of the Apollo moon landings, July 20th 1969” you’d think that
    a $120 million movie could afford to get it looking *slightly* right.

    More fun to try and spot what’s correct…
    Or to miss quote Ed Harris – “What have we got on the photo that’s good?”

  60. Peter F

    Phil, Jim, Melissa — I have a question — when a scientist is consulted at all for a fictional work like a book or movie, is it customary to compensate them? Is asking a scientist a question for a book you’re writing about, say, a moonbase like asking a doctor to look at a funny mole on your butt at a cocktail party?

    Although this scene didn’t appear in Watchmen, it reminds me of a story in another comic series that Alan Moore created in the 1980s with a superbeing called Miracleman (Marvelman in the UK) who decided he’d had enough of watching regular humans screwing everything up and decided to just take over and try to create a sort of global Utopia. In one issue, a disgruntled astronaut was determined to get to Mars, with no help from the superhuman at all, and Miracleman watched him make it to Earth orbit before something went wrong and his ship began to burn up on reentry.

    The astronaut waved him off and Miracleman sadly watched him die, because the astronaut wanted to live or die on his own. The scenes at the beginning of “Superman II” (talk about scientific inaccuracy!) with a doomed moon mission encountering General Zod, Ursa and Non, made me wonder even as a kid about how futile a manned space program would seem in a world where some people could just fly to other worlds under their own power.

  61. any fule no you need a space at the top to scroll the vanishing point titles.

  62. Since I couldn’t find an email address, I figured this post was as good a place as any to leave a message, as it’s also comic book related.

    In the latest issue of Green Lantern, two characters use their power to change a red giant that is “in the first phases of going to supernova” into a young, blue star. The change is made to “save” the almost 3 billion lives in the system at the time, since evacuation would take too long. Already having a rough idea about how changes to a star affect its solar system even before I read Death From the Skies!, I knew this would, at best, prolongue the end of those lives (and possibly even shorten it, depending on how soon the supernova would be….we are talking about the lives of stars, after all).

    I thought you might find that bit of bad astronomy interesting, and possibly offer some more knowledgeable insight.

  63. Torsten Adair

    Given that all of the photos taken on the Moon are in the public domain, why didn’t they just use something like this
    or this (mmmm!)
    or one from Apollo 11 like this

    and photoshop some elements into it, like a lunar rover or LM?

    People KNOW it’s the Moon, you don’t need the freakin’ Earth in the background. Keeping it simple adds to the authenticity. (And prevents scientists from complaining about it!)

    I’m an armchair scientist, so I don’t know how to prove this, but browsing the NASA photos, it seems that the light reflected off the astronaut’s suit is the wrong quality. Would sunlight behave differently in a vacuum? (Sorry if others have already commented on this.)

    Given the ratios in the picture, how far away is Dr. Manhattan standing? And his composition is awful!

    Of note…. NASA reports that the “full” exposure of planet Earth (the shot of Africa and Antarctica in direct sunlight) is their number one requested image. It is most likely that the Earth pictured above is a blurred image of that image.

    Now, delving into the Watchmen timeline… if there is no Partial Test Ban Treaty, would Project Orion have succeeded?

    And to answer Peter’s comment… in Fantastic Four #13, dated April 1963, the Fantastic Four race the Red Ghost and his Super Apes (no….REALLY) to the Moon, eventually landing in an ancient alien moon base with an atmosphere. (One can analyze that cover as well, trying to pinpoint the general location of the Blue Area on the Moon.) Years later, as this world celebrated Apollo 11, the Fantastic Four prevented an alien attack on the lunar mission. (It is not known if the events of FF#13 are publicly known on Earth-616.) (And if you REALLY want to get into it… there’s also a duplicate Earth half an orbit behind/ahead of us in that universe. )

  64. Chris

    If the Earth is full (as seen from the Moon), how can it be seen at all from any sunlit part of the Moon? Wouldn’t that be just as impossible as seeing the full Moon from a sunlit part of the Earth (i.e. during the day)?

    Furthermore, the linked site gives a specific date for the photo: July 20, 1969, the same day as the Apollo 11 landing in our timeline. Unless Dr. M. changed the Moon’s orbit, July 14, 1969 was a new Moon (full Earth) just as it was in our timeline (h/t USNO Moon phase calculator), so no matter where on the Moon you’re standing, you should see an Earth that’s six days past full, i.e., only slightly gibbous. Nowhere near mistakable for full even in a fuzzy shot.

    There seem to be at least three suns in this picture (two to cast the inconsistent shadows of the module and Dr. M, and a third to illuminate the Earth). Yet none of them is shining on Neil.

    The point about a camera (or eye) seeing its own reflection only in the center of a mirror-sphere is valid too.

    Clearly they didn’t do this picture with a raytrace program – that would have gotten the reflection optics right, *and* forced them to think about where they were placing their light sources. (Although that still wouldn’t have forced them to use the correct Moon phase or placed the landing site on the same part of the Moon where it was in our timeline.)

  65. Dave Jerrard


    You can see a full Earth from the moon, provided you were somewhere high enough on the moon for the Earth to appear above the moon’s horizon – like on the top of a tall mountain – somewhere along the terminator. Astronomy Picture of The Day had a similar photo that shows both the sun and a full moon taken from Earth…

    Granted, this isn’t exactly full daylight. Generally speaking, a full moon, or a full earth isn’t always technically full – some is actually in shadow, but that sliver of unlit surface is so thin it’s virtually impossible to see next to the glare of the fully lit side, thus it’s still generally accepted as being full. The Earth in this shot isn’t quite full, though some people might make that mistake.

    Everything else you mentioned seems right on the money though. I’m actually doing exactly this sort of a scene in a 3D program right now for a show, and as you said, to get the lighting right, you really have to think a bit. Trying to get a nice view of Earth, while still getting some attractive shading on the lunar surface is a trick (especially since I’m located near the lunar equator), without breaking the law and putting the sun outside of the tropics.

    He Who is Sometimes Too Much of A Prefectionist.

  66. The BA says: “The Moon always shows one face as seen from the Earth, and that means the Earth is always in roughly the same part of the sky from a spot on the Moon. To see the Earth that close to the horizon means the Apollo 11 landing would have to have been very close to the Moon’s north or south pole”

    Which is why Cheseley Bonestell recommended the crater Aristarcus (near the lunar north pole) as the landing site in “Destination Moon.” It allowed him to do the background painting showing the Earth correctly on the horizon with the north pole up like on a school globe.

    – jack

  67. Michael Wilce

    @ Dave Jerrard – ” He Who is Sometimes Too Much of A Prefectionist. ”

    Cool. when it comes to faking someting ‘real’ you can’t have too much perfection. It’s all
    about making a fake *feel* real. Then it’ll fool more people. Even for people who don’t know
    Apollo history or can’t explain fields of view or angles of reflection etc the above photo won’t
    feel right, so they won’t fall for it, *or think it’s cool*.

    Although it never ceases to amaze me just how easy it is to fool some of the people all of the
    time. Even when the basics are so blindingly wrong –

    I’m no scientist, just a photographer but jeez this ‘Watchmen’ photo looks like it was done
    by a 14 year old with his good quality action figure and basic Photoshop.
    This is a publicity still for a new big Hollywood movie?? Oh dear.

  68. Sili

    I see the same pareidolia as Jorde.

    And from a psychologically point of view, it fits the US stereotype that they’d (you’d) figure prominently in the photo.

  69. WetMogwai

    I found another problem with the picture. The camera Dr. Manhattan is holding would not make an image like that. Based on the grid of crosses, it must be a Hasselblad 500EL. Unlike most medium format cameras, it takes film that has perforations for sprockets, but it is double perforated like 35mm, not single perforated like the image shown. Also unlike most medium format cameras of the era, it did not have a wait level viewfinder, though it appears Dr. Manhattan may be looking into one.

  70. kroosing 2 '42' via '37'

    ‘Watchmen’ with Carla Gugino from ‘Threshold’, and Doctor Who with ‘Bionic Woman’ Michelle Ryan? Oh man, we’re getting spoiled in 2009…

    Phil, that “orange moon dust”, is that the same stuff of Homer Hickam’s ‘Back to the Moon’?

  71. scribbleed

    I know I’m mixing my metaphors but …

    “That’s no earth. It’s a space station.”

  72. Ed

    it is important to remind you that even though the number on the side of the picture is for apollo 17, the reflection of dr Manhattan is an edited version of the picture with that number correspondent, hence why they chose to use that number. So that oh so famous picture he mentioned is actually IN the one above.


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