Colored Regions - Part 3

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Colored Regions on the Moon's Surface (Part 3)

(glossary entry)

Part 1 is an overview of telescopic observations and photographs of subtle colorations on the moon's disc, and orbital observations and photographs performed by Apollo astronauts and previous unmanned orbiters.
Part 2 is a rather curious look at the moon's colors, plus all sorts of rare observing techniques, thoughts, and hypotheses (the possible cause of the reddish-colored Transient Lunar Phenomena, TLP). It is also an enthusiast's look at the visual perception of colors.
Part 3 is an exploration of the moon's surface and the variety of subtle colorations on boulders, rocks, and regolith. Photographs by the Apollo astronauts and previous unmanned landers.
Research: Danny Caes.


During the Apollo program, a variety of lunar rocks and boulders was investigated by the astronauts on the moon and by scientists on Earth. Many of the investigated rocks and boulders appeared greyish (no color) to the astronauts's eyes, and to their Hasselblad cameras. On the other hand, a surprising number of the photographed and collected samples showed unexpected colorations such as lightgreen, rusty orange, and even a kind of soft blue!

Additional Information

Before the arrival of Apollo's astronauts, several unmanned Surveyor landers made color photographs of the moon's investigated surface. On most of these photographs, the moon's surface (the regolith and the rocks) appeared grey.
It is not known if there were photographic color-experiments aboard the unmanned Soviet landers (Luna, Lunokhod).

The very first color-photographs of the moon's regolith?

They were printed on page 581 of the National Geographic - october 1966, in the article Surveyor: Candid Camera on the Moon, by Homer E. Newell. The large one of the two printed photographs shows Surveyor 1's photometric disc (a calibration card with colors orange (red), green, blue, and white) against the grey colored lunar surface. The small photograph shows the same (?) photometric disc against one of the three landing pods on which a gold-plated jet nozzle is visible (looking yellowish). Both photographs were made through three filters (orange/ green/ blue). Are these two photographs the very first color-snapshots made on the lunar surface?

Don Davis, on his page The Moon (lunar B-and-W and COLOR photography):
- The Surveyor 1 spacecraft, essentially an aluminum tripod supporting various components, became the first of four successes in the series, returning thousands of television still images. Among these images were the first attempts at color pictures from the Moon, taken in three exposures of the gray scale camera through red, green and blue filters. The camera quality was barely good enough to be useful in such experiments, and at least revealed the surface was so gray that the camera related brightness variations between frames was more noticeable than any actual possible subtle color variations in the scene, although the color target itself is well shown.

In some way related: the article Historic Color Portrait of Earth from Space by Kenneth F. Weaver, in the National Geographic - november 1967, pages 726-731 (the DODGE satellite and its attached RGB-colored calibration ball to capture Earth's true colors).

Gemini 10 astronaut Michael Collins photographed an MSC-8 Color Patch outside the spacecraft during the Gemini 10 - Agena docking mission. The experiment was for the purpose of showing what effect the environment of space will have upon the color photography taken in cislunar space and on the lunar surface during an Apollo mission. S66-46025
- NASA -

Surveyor 1 in the Flamsteed P ring

One of the very first color-photographs of lunar rocks and boulders appeared on page 589 of the National Geographic - october 1966, in the article Surveyor: Candid Camera on the Moon, by Homer E. Newell. The photograph shows a somewhat colorless grey rock on equally grey regolith. That won't say there's not the slightest bit of coloration on the moon's surface. The color-photographs made by the Apollo astronauts tell a different story...

Purple rocks?

109:49:40 Buzz Aldrin: "Hey, Neil, didn't I say we might see some purple rocks?"
109:49:42 Neil Armstrong: "Find a purple rock?"
(Apollo 11, july 1969 -- Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, Eric M. Jones).

Bluish colored rocks? (Apollo 12)

During the second manned landing on the moon (november 1969) astronauts Charles Conrad and Alan Bean explored and investigated a curious mound which was photographed on color Hasselblad film. Two of the many photographs of it also show some light-blue colored rocks in the neighbourhood of the mound. Is this lightblue cast a secondary photographic effect or is it the true coloration of the rocks?
AS12-46-6794 and 6795
High-Resolution scans:
AS12-46-6794 and 6795

The curious bluish "sponge"-shaped rock near Dune crater (Apollo 15)

During Apollo 15's exploration of the Hadley site, a curious "sponge"-shaped rock was investigated near Dune crater. Note the remarkable bluish coloration of that rock (or was it the yellowish contrasting coloration of the lunar surface in the background?).
AS15-87-11767 (lower part of the "sponge"-shaped rock, and gnomon).
AS15-87-11768 (the "sponge"-shaped bluish-colored rock, and part of Hill 305 at the horizon).

The greenish boulder at Station 6A (Apollo 15)

Note the light-greenish coloration on top of this boulder.
AS15-86-11660 and AS15-86-11661

Green colored samples

These are samples 15400-405. Sample 15405 is a 513 gram piece of "slightly recrystallized breccia". When these samples - and similar samples collected at Spur Crater - were examined after the mission, they proved, indeed, to have a green color due to an unusually high abundance of magnesium oxide. The authors of the Apollo 15 Preliminary Science Report concur with the crew's assessment that the Station 6 boulder is related to the South Cluster impacts.

David Scott: (in july 1971 commander of Apollo 15)
"Can you imagine finding a green rock on the Moon? Think about that. We'd never had any green rocks in training. Nobody'd ever said anything about green rocks - orange, or anything - and all of a sudden you're sitting there and, you find a green rock! I missed it; Jim (LMP James Irwin) saw it. I didn't see it; and then I saw it; and it was really green. You're sitting there, and you're supposed to be a geologist on the Moon, exploring, and you're thinking about plagioclase and breccias and basalt and all that sort of stuff. And, all of a sudden, you find green. And nobody has ever told you ever before, in any class that we could remember (about anything green) - other than olivine, and this clearly was not olivine - and, all of a sudden, you've got green! Man, that's something you go for regardless of how steep it is. I mean, I was ready to give up and head on (to Spur Crater), because of the difficulty (of the slope), until Jim saw the green. I was still skeptical about that; but, when I got up and saw the green I thought, boy, this is good stuff. And part of the fun of it was finding something that nobody'd ever talked about".
(We turned the tape off and looked in the Preliminary Science Report and saw that, as shown in Figure 6-13, the green material has a high abundance of MgO rich, green glass spheres. The glass spheres may have been produced, originally, in fire-fountains at the edge of the Imbrium Basin and, at some point, were incorporated into the breccia).
David Scott:
"It makes sense that it's part of fire-fountains on the edge of the Imbrium Basin, when it was formed. And a chunk of breccia was part of that cataclysm and whatever and it picked up some of the glass. It's been explained to me that there were these vast fire-fountains on impact, when the Imbrium Basin was created. So this could be part of that, where the rock was mixed with the glass".
- Eric M. Jones; Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, Apollo 15; EVA 2: The Green Boulder at Station 6a

See also article Lunar Green Glass (green colored spherules).

The Station 2 boulder, near Saint George crater (Apollo 15)

Close up images of the Station 2 boulder reveal curious lightbluish spots and lots of sun-reflecting metal-like drops. The Hi-Res scans of those close ups (AS15-86-11570 and 11571) are worthwile to look at, especially as a stereoscopic image (to explore the "metallic drops", the curious bluish colors, and lots of weird-looking cavities).

Labradorescence related to Apollo 15's chunky white rock, called anorthosite

The colorful optical phenomenon known as Labradorescence is mentioned on page 638 (item 405) in Andrew Chaikin's book A MAN ON THE MOON (Penguin Books, 1994).
See also Labradorite.

Gold colored rocks?

Not really. They look quite gold colored on the lower part of Apollo 16's Hasselblad photograph AS16-113-18358, which also shows the central part of the ALSEP-station (at lower left) and LM Orion's Ascent Stage (at upper right). The curious gold colorations on the rocks near the photograph's lower margin are, in fact, the sunlight's reflection from the ALSEP-station's protective gold foil.

A multi colored rock (Apollo 17)

The Apollo astronauts detected several subtle colorations on the moon's rocks and boulders. Perhaps the most "multi-colored" rock was the sample at Apollo 17's Station 2, of which there are 11 Hasselblad photographs (AS17-137-20963 to 20973).
Three of them are seen here:
AS17-137-20963 (rock and gnomon; note the RGB-colors on the gnomon's calibration card).
AS17-137-20968 (note the bluish and yellowish contrasting colorations on the rock!).
AS17-137-20972 (other side of the rock, with remarkable bluish spots).

Small lightblue colored rock at Geology Station 5, near Camelot crater (Apollo 17)

AS17-145-22138 shows a small lightblue colored rock located about halfway between this photograph's left margin and the large central cross.
The High-Resolution scan of this photograph:
AS17-145-22138 HR
AS17-145-22139 shows it too, also between the photograph's left margin and the large central cross.
The High-Resolution scan of this photograph:
AS17-145-22139 HR
(investigations of the photographs made at Camelot crater's boulderfield reveal a number of subtle bluish-grey colored rocks).

Discovery of orange soil at Apollo 17's Station 4, near Shorty crater

And then there was the remarkable orange-ish colored regolith near the rocky outcrop on the rim of Shorty crater. There are 7 close up Hasselblad photographs of that orange spot.
Three of them:
AS17-137-20985 (close up, with calibration card of gnomon).
AS17-137-20989 (close up).
AS17-137-20990 (overview of the spot).
The above photographs of the "multi-colored" rock and the orange-ish colored regolith were made on Magazine 137/C, of which the Calibration Chart is seen here.
See also: APOD's Strange Orange Soil on the Moon

Curious brick-red coloration of the Station 6 boulder's shadowed parts

Color Hasselblad photographs made at the well-known Station 6 boulder (aka Split Rock) show a curious brick-red or tan coloration at the parts which received reflected light of the sun.

Trivia and Curiosities

Apollo 12 and Surveyor 3
Officially there are no color photographs of Surveyor 3 on the lunar surface. Careful investigation however reveals more than one color-Hasselblad photograph on which Surveyor 3 is seen, sitting at the eastern shadowed inner slope of Surveyor crater. These photographs are:
Magazine 46/Y:
- AS12-46-6740 shows LM Intrepid and a lot of spectral-colored catadioptric effects, with the distant Surveyor 3 at right, on the shadowed slope.
- AS12-46-6741 (rightward of 6740) shows Surveyor 3 at left.
- AS12-46-6746 shows it too.
- AS12-46-6769 is perhaps the best one of all color photographs of Surveyor 3. The bluish colored pentagon and the two bright "pseudo-suns" are catadioptric effects in the Hasselblad camera's lens-system (and NOT "floodlights in the studio").
Magazine 47/V:
- AS12-47-6948 shows Surveyor 3 a little to the right of the bluish colored catadioptric effect's lower half.
- AS12-47-6949 shows Surveyor 3 near the photograph's central cross. The Descent Stage of LM Intrepid is seen at left.
- AS12-47-6968 shows Surveyor 3 at left.
- AS12-47-6969 shows Surveyor 3 near the photograph's central cross (a little lower and to the left of it).
- AS12-47-6992 shows Surveyor 3 halfway between the central cross and the photograph's left margin.
- AS12-47-6993 shows Surveyor 3 near the photograph's central cross. The red-colored dot in the black sky (at right) is NOT an "extraterrestrial visitor", its origin is pure chemical, the cause of it is an irregularity in the photographic film.
- AS12-47-6994 shows Surveyor 3 about halfway between the central cross and the photograph's right margin. The two bright "pseudo suns" and the bluish colored "blob" are catadioptric effects in the Hasselblad camera's lens-system. Note the spectral colored "arc" at right, which is also a reflection-phenomenon inside the camera's lens-system.
Research photographs: Danny Caes.

Surveyor 3's tan-like coloration
Note the somewhat tan-like coloration of Surveyor 3 on all of these photographs, a coloration which was also observed by the astronauts during their close-up investigation of the lander (sadly enough, they forgot to take color close-ups of it).
Descriptions of Surveyor 3's tan-coloration are online in Eric M. Jones's Apollo Lunar Surface Journal (ALSJ), and also in the book Die Mondlandung, der Menschheit Grosstes Abenteuer by Herbert J. Pichler (Verlag Fritz Molden, 1970).
- DannyCaes Feb 15, 2009

Luna and Zond
Color photograph of Moon and Earth, by orbiter Zond 7
Color photograph of lunar sample, collected by Luna 16
Color photograph of lunar sample 2, collected by Luna 16
Color photograph of lunar sample 3, collected by Luna 16
Color photograph of lunar sample, collected by Luna 20
Many thanks to Don P. Mitchell and his excellent site Soviet Moon Images.

An additional survey of curious optical phenomena and lens flares in remarkable color photographs made during the manned landings of Apollo 11, Apollo 12, Apollo 14, Apollo 15, Apollo 16, and Apollo 17

'(looking for spectral-colored diffraction effects and catadioptric phenomena created in the sunlit optical system of Apollo's Hasselblad cameras)
Research: Danny Caes

Apollo 11:
AS11-40-5865 (camera was looking "
below-left" of the sun, note the spectral-colored streaks in the shadow of LM Eagles leg, and the two bright inter-lens reflection images of the sun; which are often misunderstood as "floodlights in the studio")(note that such bright multiple solar reflections appear on all of Apollo's upsun images!).
AS11-40-5887 (camera was looking "below" the sun, note the abundance of colorful diffraction streaks in LM Eagles shadow!).
AS11-40-5935 (camera was looking "
below-left" of the sun, bright glare and spectral-colored diffraction streaks).
AS11-40-5936 (camera was looking "
below-right" of the sun, bright "ray" and spectral-colored diffraction streaks).
AS11-36-5293 (typical catadioptric phenomena, photographed while in orbit just before TLC).

Apollo 12:
AS12-46-6740 (camera was looking "
right" of the sun, note the rare "Newton-ring" like effect across LM Intrepid at left, and the abundance of colorful diffraction streaks scattered all over the image! One of the most beautiful photographs of the entire Apollo program!).
AS12-46-6761 (camera was looking "
left" of the sun).
AS12-46-6764 (camera was looking "
left" of the sun).
AS12-46-6806 (this well-known photograph shows Alan Bean with the ALSEP package, camera was looking "
right" of the sun).

Apollo 14:
AS14-66-9280 (camera was looking "
left" of the sun, note the colorful diffraction phenomenon near the photograph's left margin and catadioptric effects at right).
AS14-66-9281 (camera was looking slightly "
left" of the sun, note the colorful diffraction ring).
AS14-66-9284 (camera was looking "
right" of the sun).
AS14-66-9304 (camera was looking slightly "
left" of the sun, note the small diffraction ring and catadioptric effects near the imaged sun and near the photograph's lower left corner).
AS14-66-9305 (camera was looking "
at" the sun toward LM Antares, note the small spectral-colored "Newton-ring" like effect at the lower edge of the sun's disc-shaped glare).

Apollo 15:
AS15-87-11743 (camera was looking "
below" the sun toward the Swann range, over the top surface of LM Falcons Ascent Stage, photographed by CDR David Scott during his Stand-Up EVA).
AS15-87-11741 (camera was looking "left" of the sun toward the Swann range (right) and Mons Hadley (left). Spectral colored diffraction streaks near the photograph's upper left corner).

Apollo 16:
AS16-107-17429 (camera was looking "below" the sun, note the multitude of subtle colors in the glare and in the two fragments of the spectral colored diffraction-ring at the left and right parts of the black sky).
AS16-113-18321 (camera was looking "below" the sun, spectral colored diffraction-ring, catadioptric phenomena).
AS16-114-18423 (LMP Charles Duke at the edge of Plum crater, the LRV at Plum's far side, and some colorful diffraction streaks in the image's upper left corner and at Plum's shadowed inner slope).
AS16-114-18424 (LMP Charles Duke in a "haze of light")(the sun's glare in the Hasselblad-camera's optical system, and some colorful diffraction streaks).

Apollo 17:
AS17-134-20400 (camera was looking "below" the sun toward the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) and the Sculptured Hills)(note that this photograph is a bit out-of-focus).
AS17-137-20928 (camera was looking "below" the sun toward the East Massif, note the colorful diffraction streaks at upper left and upper right)(photograph is a bit out-of-focus).
AS17-137-20929 (almost the same as AS17-137-20928).
AS17-147-22507 (camera was looking "below-left" of the sun toward the Sculptured Hills and the East Massif).
AS17-147-22508 (camera was looking "left" of the sun, note the rare diffraction effect near the image's upper left corner!)(note that there's weak reflected light on the shadowed parts of the Sculptured Hills).
AS17-147-22509 (camera was looking "below" the sun, toward the East Massif, note the curious "Newton-ring" like phenomena in the disc-shaped glare around the sun).
AS17-147-22512 (camera was looking "below-right" of the sun, note the bridge-shaped diffraction effect and the curious "Newton-ring" like phenomenon in the sun's glare).
AS17-147-22581 (camera was looking "below" the sun toward the Sculptured Hills and the East Massif, note the curious horizontal "Newton-ring" like phenomenon just above the distant LM).
It (this rare and colorful "horizontal Newton ring") is much more recognizable on the High-Resolution scan (AS17-147-22581 HR).

To be continued...

Many thanks to Kipp Teague (Project Apollo Archive) and Eric M. Jones (Apollo Lunar Surface Journal).
Without Kipp and Eric I would never have known the beauty of many less-known and unknown Apollo photographs!
- DannyCaes Jun 9, 2009

LPOD Articles

Volcano M3? (Kaguya's orbital look at farside crater Drygalski, with a splendid row of multi-colored catadioptric phenomena!).
Dullsville (Kaguya's orbital look at farside crater Antoniadi, with wonderful catadioptric phenomena!).
Moon Catching (catadioptric phenomenon in nocturnal photograph of "catched" moon).

APOD Articles (additional examples of lens flare effects)

Bright Sun and Crescent Earth from the Space Station