Using data provided by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft (see notes 1) since 2009, NASA has published an amazing virtual Moon tour in 4K Ultra HD (see notes 2). As the visualization moves around the near side, far side (see notes 3), north and south poles, interesting features, sites, and information gathered on the lunar terrain get highlighted.
Virtual Moon Tour
The virtual Moon tour visits a number of interesting sites chosen to illustrate a variety of lunar terrain features. Some are on the near side and are familiar to both professional and amateur observers on Earth, while others can only be seen clearly from space. Some are large and old (Orientale basin, see notes 4, South Pole-Aitken basin, see notes 5), while others are smaller and younger (Tycho, see notes 6, Aristarchus, see notes 7). Constantly shadowed areas near the poles are hard to photograph but easier to measure with altimetry, while several of the Apollo landing sites, all relatively near the equator, have been imaged at resolutions as high as 25 centimeters (10 inches) per pixel.
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbital Camera is even able to capture a view of the bottom half of the Apollo 17 Lunar Lander which still sits on the surface, as well as the rover vehicle (we can see them in this virtual Mour tour).
Music Provided By Killer Tracks: “Never Looking Back” – Frederick Wiedmann. “Flying over Turmoil” – Benjamin Krause & Scott Goodman.
The video above is public domain and along with other supporting visualizations can be downloaded from the NASA Scientific Visualization Studio.
- The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is a NASA robotic spacecraft currently orbiting the Moon in an eccentric polar mapping orbit. Data collected by LRO has been described as essential for planning NASA’s future human and robotic missions to the Moon.
- 4K Ultra HD or +K UHD (2160p) has a resolution of 3840 pixels x 2160 lines (8.3 megapixels, aspect ratio 16:9) and is one of the two resolutions of ultra high definition television targeted towards consumer television.
- There is no “dark side of the Moon”. The Moon has no side that is constantly dark; the front and back are alternately lit by the Sun as the Moon rotates. “Far side” is a more accurate term. We see only one side of the Moon, the “near side”, so the other side which we don’t see is the “far side”, not the “dark side”.
- Orientale basin or Mare Orientale (“eastern sea” in Latin) is a lunar mare. It is located on the western border of the near side and the far side of the Moon. It is difficult to see from an Earthbound perspective. Images from spacecraft have revealed the Orientale basin to be one of the most striking large-scale lunar features: it is about 900 kilometers (560 mi) across and was formed by the impact of an asteroid-sized object, possibly 64 km (40 mi) in diameter and traveling at 15 km/s (9.3 mi/s).
- The South Pole-Aitken basin is a large lunar impact crater that lies on the far side of the Moon. At roughly 2,500 kilometers (1,600 mi) in diameter and 13 kilometers (8.1 mi) deep, it is one of the largest known impact craters in the Solar System and the largest, oldest, and deepest basin recognized on the Moon. It was named for two features on opposing sides: the crater Aitken (named for the American astronomer Robert Grant Aitken, December 31, 1864 – October 29, 1951) on the northern end and the lunar south pole at the other end. The outer rim of this basin can be seen from Earth as a huge chain of mountains located on the Moon’s southern limb, sometimes informally called “Leibnitz mountains”. Simulations of near vertical impacts show that this basin should have dug up vast amounts of mantle materials from depths as great as 200 km below the surface. However, observations thus far do not favor a mantle composition for this basin, and crustal thickness maps seem to indicate the presence of about 10 kilometers of crustal materials beneath this basin’s floor. This has suggested to some that the basin was not formed by a typical high-velocity impact, but may instead have been formed by a low-velocity projectile around 200 km in diameter that hit at a low angle (about 30 degrees or less), and hence did not dig very deeply into the Moon. Putative evidence for this comes from the high elevations north-east of the rim of the South Pole-Aitken basin that might represent ejecta from such an oblique impact. The impact theory would also account for magnetic anomalies on the moon.
- Tycho is a prominent lunar impact crater located in the southern lunar highlands, named after the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), known for his accurate and comprehensive astronomical and planetary observations. It is one of the Moon’s brightest craters, with a diameter of 85 kilometers (52.8 mi) and a depth of 4.8 kilometers (3 mi).
- Aristarchus is a prominent lunar impact crater that lies in the northwest part of the Moon’s near side. It is considered the brightest of the large formations on the lunar surface. It is named after the Greek astronomer Aristarchus of Samos (c. 310 – c. 230 BC) who presented the first known model that placed the Sun at the center of the known universe with the Earth revolving around it. It has a diameter of 40 kilometers (25 mi) and a depth of 3.7 kilometers (2.3 mi).