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Blue Marble the Uniform Earth Image

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"Blue Marble", the full earth image, is uniform as well as all the other full planet images and their moons. The uniformity is due to a single event scattering of sunlight. Single event scattered light is coherent and leads to enhanced backscattering of light, the opposition effect. Coherent backscattered light is separable from non-coherent light by interferometry. It increases the observation distance of celestial bodies, asteroids, and the penetration of image observation within scattering media.
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Blue Marble the Uniform Earth Image
Uri Lachish
The Sun and the Moon a Riddle in the Sky
"Blue Marble", the full earth image, is uniform as well as all the other full planet
images and their moons. The uniformity is due to a single event scattering of sunlight.
Single event scattered light is coherent and leads to enhanced backscattering of light,
the opposition effect. Coherent backscattered light is separable from non-coherent
light by interferometry. It increases the observation distance of celestial bodies,
asteroids, and the penetration of image observation within scattering media.
The term "blue marble" was coined by NASA to the full earth image taken by the
Apollo 17 team in 1972 1. The first similar full earth image was taken earlier in the
DODGE (Department of Defense Gravity Experiment) in 1967 2. Images are now
available routinely since 2015 from the Deep Space Climate Observatory located
about 1.6*106 km from the earth 3.
Figure-1: The Blue Marble, full earth image taken by the Apollo-17 team 1.
According to Lambert's cosine law 4, the intensity of such images should be maximal
at the image center, and fade to zero at the periphery by the cosine function. However,
all these images have a common feature, starting from the first DODGE image to the
present day images: The average image density is uniform from the face center of the
image towards its periphery. More than that: The earth image includes large areas of
gas phase clouds, liquid phase oceans, and solid phase land, and the uniformity
is nearly true for each phase separately. This feature is not discussed in the literature,
not even mentioned in it.
The uniformity is not unique to the earth, but it is also observed in all the other planets
and planet moons when they are back illuminated by the sun, that is, the image is 180
degrees backward scattered from the object toward the observer 5.
Light reflection from a material is considered in the literature either specular, mirror
like, or diffusive. Specular reflection obeys the mirror law, while diffusive light
scattering spreads in all direction. Random diffusive scattering is considered a
multiple scattering event 6 and it must obey Lambert's scattering law 4: The scattering
intensity is maximal in a perpendicular direction to the surface of the scattering body.
It falls off according to the cosine function when the scattering angle deviates from
In the case of a sphere, backward scattering, scattering 180 degrees back, is maximal
at the center of the sphere. It falls to zero according to the cosine function when
advancing from the sphere surface center toward to its periphery. Bodies that their
images comply with Lambert's cosine law are considered Lambertian scatterers 7, 8.
The uniform back scattered images, of all the planets and their moons 5, show that
they are not Lambertian. There are thousands upon thousands of such images but not
a single true photo that complies with the cosine law. The only images that do comply
with the law are rendered, images that are at least partly simulated.
The earth's moon, our own moon, is the only body where the full image was studied
in detail and theories have been suggested for the image uniformity. There are reviews
of the subject including detailed reference lists 9-10. The hither to theories of light
scattering from the moon face involve specific properties of the surface material,
rocks and dust. They are not applicable to the earth image where the uniformity is
observed separately in the air, sea, and land. It is more likely that a single theory
should be applicable to the moon, earth, and all other cases.
Going a little into the scattering mechanism may shed light on the observed earth
Light that travels within a material polarizes its matter. The electromagnetic radiation
stimulates electric dipole oscillations within it, and each dipole becomes a source of
electromagnetic radiation. Each dipole oscillates with a phase that is determined by its
position in space, and its radiation field adds by vector addition to the stimulating
radiation and the fields of the other dipoles. For uniform material the phases of the
stimulated dipoles cancel each other in all the directions and sum up to zero except in
the forward direction. Therefore, there is no scattered light in any direction except the
forward direction, where the observed effect is refraction.
For a material with non-uniform density, each phase is summed with a different
weight and the sum is not zero, so that scattered light may advance in any direction.
Light is scattered from scattering centers and the scattered light intensity is equal to
the sum of the light intensities of the centers.
A scattering center is a uniform sub-volume of a non-uniform volume. The scattering
properties depend on the size of the center volume. For volume size smaller than the
stimulating wavelength there will be scattering in all directions, Rayleigh scattering,
and for volume size bigger than the wavelength, the scattering will be of small angle,
Mie scattering.
There is an essential difference between a single event scattering and a multiple event
scattering which is completely ignored in the scientific literature. In single event
scattering all the scattering sources are stimulated by a same single radiation source,
therefore, all the scattered radiation is coherent. In multiple scattering this property is
lost and the scattered light is not coherent.
Figure-2 shows an observing camera on a satellite looking at a full earth, while the
sun is behind its back.
Sun & camera
Sun light
a / Cos (q)
a * Cos (q)
Scattered light
Surface brightness
dipole radiation
Figure-2: Relative configuration of the sun, the earth as a scattering sphere, and an
observing camera in space with its back to the sun.
Sunlight brightness a * Cos(
) on the earth illuminates the area a / Cos(
through a. The sun light polarizes the earth surface perpendicular to the light
direction. The earth dipoles scatter maximum light back to the sun, and back to an
observing camera on a satellite.
is the angle between a line from the earth center to the camera, and a line
between the earth center and any point on its surface.
It is beneficial to go into the scattering mechanism. Sunlight that falls on the earth,
induces dipole charge oscillations on its face. Each such a dipole is a source of light,
and the overall scattered light is the combined effect of all the dipoles.
Each dipole oscillates in the electric field direction of the coming sunlight, that is, in a
plane perpendicular to the light direction, and the maximal emission of a dipole is
perpendicular to its direction of oscillation, that is, back to the sun and back to the
observing camera.
Therefore, in single event scattering the mean equivalent light scattered 180
degrees back from the earth will also be directed back to the sun and to the camera. It
will not be perpendicular to the earth surface.
Considering the fading sunlight on the earth surface, the back scattered light from the
earth will be proportional then to:
(a / Cos(
)) * Cos(
The observing camera will see a uniform full earth.
In summary, the mean back scattering from the full earth is directed back to the sun
because the scattering dipoles on the earth oscillate in a plane perpendicular to the
coming sunlight. Any calculation that does not take the direction of the polarizing
dipoles into account will not be correct.
The uniform full images of the planets and their moons tell us that the dominant
scattering mechanism is single event scattering. Multiple scattering may add some
All the scattering dipoles, in single event scattering, are stimulated by a common
radiation source. Therefore, the back scattering from them must be coherent and there
will be enhancement of the 180 degrees backscattered light 11. The enhancement is
indeed attributed to coherent scattering in the literature 12-14, but since a single event
scattering is not considered there, it is not clear why the scattered light will be
Coherent scattered light may be separated from non-coherent scattered light by
interferometric methods, therefore the range of observing celestial bodies, asteroids
and others, may be increased by applying interferometry.
The uniform images of the planets and their moons 5 also tell us that most of the
scenery that surrounds us is that of singly scattered light. Applying backward
scattering and interferometry enhances the depth of image observation within
scattering media 15.
Multiple event scattering must lead to Lambert's cosine scattering law. However such
images are rare, if observed at all. In the calculation of the law there is a hidden
assumption that the scattering dipoles oscillate independently in all random directions
in space. The images of the full earth, the planets and their moons tell us that this is
not the case, the scattering mechanism must be mainly single events
In multiple scattering the dipoles lose their common plane of oscillation, therefore
there is no way that the scattered light will be coherent. In addition, as a multiple
event involves more and more scattering steps, the probability for it will diminish, and
the first single scattering will be dominant.
1 "Visible Earth: The Blue Marble from Apollo 17". NASA. Retrieved December 10,
2 The first color image of the entire Earth, taken by the DODGE satellite
3 Daily natural color imagery of Earth from the EPIC camera onboard the DSCOVR
4 Ikeuchi, Katsushi, "Lambertian Reflectance". Encyclopedia of Computer Vision.
Springer. pp. 441443 (2014). doi:10.1007/978-0-387-31439-6_534. ISBN 978-0-
5 True-Color Photos of All the Planets:
6 H.W.Jensen et al. (2001), A practical model for subsurface light transport,
7 W. J. Smith, Modern Optical engineering, 3rd Ed., (McGrow-Hill, NY, 2000), pp.
8 F. L. Pedrotti, L. S. Pedrotti, Introduction to Optics, 2nd Ed. (Prentic-Hall, NJ, 1993),
9 Z.K. Kopal, An Introduction to the Study of the Moon, (Springer, 1966), p. 330
10 Michael K. Shepard, Introduction to Planetary Photometry, Contemporary Physics,
59(1):1-1, Cambridge (2017)
11 Uri Lachish, Full-Moon and Opposition,
12 B. Hapke, et. al., The Opposition Effect of the Moon: Coherent Backscatter and
Shadow Hiding,
13Bruce Hapke, The opposition effect, Cambridge University Press, pp 221-262
14 Akkermans, E.; P. E. Wolf; R. Maynard. "Coherent Backscattering of Light by
Disordered Media: Analysis of the Peak Line Shape". Physical Review Letters. 56
(14): 14711474 (1986)
15 Uri Lachish, Enhancing Tissue Depth Imaging,
DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.24716.74889
On the web: August 2020
The Sun and the Moon a Riddle in the Sky
Full-Moon and the Opposition Effect
Enhancing Tissue Depth Imaging
Blue Marble the Uniform Earth Image
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The electromagnetic scattering properties of Solar System regoliths are commonly interpreted using the lunar regolith as a prototype. Hence, a thorough understanding of the reflectance of lunar soil is essential to remote sensing planetary studies. We have measured the linearly and circularly polarized reflectances of samples of lunar soil in order to better understand the nature of the lunar opposition effect. Several independent observations show that the zero-phase peak is caused by both shadow hiding and coherent backscatter in roughly equal amounts. Any radiative transfer model for planetary regoliths must take this dual nature into account. The transport mean free path for photons in the lunar regolith is about 1 μm, which is much smaller than the mean particle size.
Recent experiments have confirmed that coherent effects in the multiple scattering of light affect the angular dependence of the intensity reflected by disordered media. By considering the constructive interferences between time-reversed paths of light in a semi-infinite medium, we analyze the experimental line shape of the albedo within the diffusion approximation and explain the observed effects of polarization.
The opposition effect
  • Bruce Hapke
Bruce Hapke, The opposition effect, Cambridge University Press, pp 221-262 (2012)