Kaguya's jaw-dropping Moon video

By Phil Plait | June 5, 2009 1:00 pm

Kaguya is a Japanese spacecraft that has been orbiting the Moon since October 2007. It is equipped with several detectors, but also — brilliantly, in my opinion — two HD cameras. The footage below is not a simulation: it’s real imagery of the Moon! Make sure you click the HD button, or go to the YouTube page to see this in full resolution.

This next footage is of the crater Antoniadi, and is stunning. Note the lens flares from sunlight entering the camera and reflecting inside.

Map of Kaguya impact point on the Moon

I was surprised to learn that the end of Kaguya’s mission will come next week, on June 10! At 18:30 GMT it will impact the lunar surface; this is on the near side of the Moon but in the unlit portion, so that the impact can be studied by ground-based telescopes. This is just past full Moon, so the impact point will just barely be after local sunset on the Moon.

I don’t know if the impact will be visible to small telescopes or not; I rather doubt it (though I’m sure it won’t be visible to the unaided eye!), but I’ll post more info as I find it.


Comments (63)

  1. dhtroy

    I’m going to play “Devil’s Advocate” for a moment and ask: Did they get footage of the remains of the U.S. Lander and what not, so we can put to rest the “we didn’t go to the moon” craziness, or did they “skip” over that, which will only add to the conspiracy theories already abound in the world?

  2. Opiecan

    Pretty sweet. I couldn’t help but think that they should do a fly-over of the mission areas…Although I’m sure there is a much more important adgenda. Cool beans!

  3. Sean

    Very Nice. But… I don’t hear the whoosh of the impulse-engines. I can’t hear any intense theatrical background music. Nor do I see any Eagle landing pads. Where’s Main Mission? And there are no super-bright stars above the horizon…

    Clearly, the conspirators at NASA have strong-armed the Japanese space agency into creating these fake videos.


  4. Clearly fake. Everyone knows the Moon is a hoax.

  5. Mchl

    Ask yourself: would they intentionally crash the probe if they didn’t have an inconvenient truth to hide?

    Back to serious: Does anyone know what’s the resolution on the video? My jaw hurts…

  6. Cain

    How big are those features? I can’t tell if the craters I’m seeing are inches or miles wide.

  7. Bob

    Phil – you forgot to mention, the probe will be filming as it goes down, so we will have really close HD of the impact.

  8. LMR

    I’m guessing there may be some information in the title page that shows at the beginning of the video, but since I can’t read it, I’ll do some rough guessing.

    Wikipedia has the Antoniadi crater with a diameter of 143km.
    It looks like the end of the video gets about 2/3 of the diameter in frame (in the HD version).

    The HD version is taking ~850 pixels on my screen.

    Which means that each pixel is about 110 meters.

    You wouldn’t see any lander in this video.
    Someone let me know if my (very rough) math is wrong.

  9. Dragon

    I would love to experience all the footage turned into a Moon version of Google Earth.

  10. JoeSmithCA

    Wow, incredible. Thank you for sharing!

    I’ve got a question (and please everyone, only serious responses) when does the video darken at ~17 seconds? Is that a shadow from the lens or the spacecraft?

  11. chili

    I’m an amateur astronomer. I was hoping that this was going to be visible from North America. But with the projected impact time of 18:30 GMT, and that the moon won’t rise on the Eastern Seaboard until (very roughly) 3am GMT, it won’t be observable even with telescopes from our hemisphere. Not even close. Dang! Clearly the impact time was scheduled to be visible from the Orient.

    I guess I’ll have to settle for some streaming video.

  12. chili

    Already done using older images. Check out Google Moon:

    Of course, using the Kaguya images would be even more impressive.

  13. Where are the Clangers?

  14. Greg23

    Lens flare my butt!

    Those are alien aura beings if I’ve ever seen them.


  15. sophia8

    You know, I’m sitting here just marvelling at the fact that I can watch hours of high-quality videos of the Moon’s surface. This would have been pretty much science fiction only thirty years ago. Now it’s “Hey, nice video – is there any more?”
    Science is bloody marvelous -and I’m bloody glad to be living at this time!

  16. T.E.L.

    One thing to point out about the HD: the original 16mm cinefilms taken by the Apollo crews had higher definition 40 years ago than Kaguya’s HD video cameras have today. Of course, the only people who ever got to see them in full resolution were those at NASA who put the first-generation prints into projectors and watched on a screen. Everyone else got to see them either on 520 line television, or nth-generation 16mm dupes.

  17. That’s some strange-looking footage. Does anyone know if it’s strictly visible-light? Somehow it seems oddly lit.

    I happened to be listening to the 28 Days Later soundtrack when I watched the videos. The track “The End” makes for some pretty awesome background music.

  18. Jeff

    The moon is pretty close, so I don’t think it was that hard to land men there. I’m surprised they didn’t start colonizing in 1970. There are expanses of desert up there, I’m surprised not to see shopping malls and fast food all over that body. Even deserts here on earth are full of development. I am totally amazed that the moon isn’t covered with development yet, it’s 40 years after moon landings. They spent all that money orbiting the earth, they should have spent it on lunar development.

  19. Of course you find the conspiracy believers (I refuse to call them theorists since theories must have a good amount of evidence supporting their claims) will claim that they refuse to image the landing sites or release images. Both are false, of course. The <a href="http://www.kaguya.jaxa.jp/en/communication/com_faq_e.htm&quot;?Kaguya FAQ page addresses both. Yes, the landing sites were imaged with 10 meter/pixel resolution, too coarse to see the equipment. And they post images of a couple of the landing sites as well.

    Not going to impact for us westerners to see…guess we have to wait for LCROSS!

  20. Sigh.


    There’s a nice spot…right…over…there! Or there! Or….!

    And curse the Japanese Space Agency for timing the impact so they could see it! Although I was never able to convince myself 100%, I’m pretty sure I caught the Smart-1 impact back in 2006. I was using an 8″ Celestron at the time. Either that or a cosmic ray zapped one of the rods in my retina at just the right time.

  21. Neil Armstrong was even closer when he took control of the Eagle. No wonder he didn’t speak.

  22. Stone Age Scientist

    Hi Phil, those are indeed spectacular videos. Well, at least in a moonish way. A pity that it only lasted for two minutes each (I can identify the kanji). I feel certain that aside from these videos, the probe must have collected other hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures of the lunar surface.

    Now what is that strange lunar geographic formation near the end of the second video? Could that be the Antoniadi Crater you were referring to? Geez, it looks like a reef and not at all like a crater. (Does the moon experience seismic activities?) Beautiful and stunning!

    Ha! I find it odd that space is just like the history of movies. The nearest celestial body from earth can only be filmed in monochromatic b/w hues; akin to the early days of black & white films. But then, farther out, the Martian landscape begins to turn into color (albeit in monochromatic reddish-brown). Hmmm, God must be working for MGM Studios, or He must be one of the stars in Wizard of OZ. :)

  23. Michael Gray

    Words fail me!
    Incredible! Amazing!

    (I think I saw a face in one of the craters.
    Hang on, it’s just me, reflected off the screen)

    I watched Apollo 11 land, and being in Australia, the local TV channel got the video feed direct from Tidbinbilla, a sizable fraction of a second before you Yanks!
    It was an exceptionally low-res, smeary B&W vidicon feed, but it looked as awesome as any painting by DaVinci, if you ask me.

    It was a literally awesome & unrepeatable event in world history that I shall never forget.

  24. IBY

    That’s just so cool!!! ^_^

  25. Am I the only person that notice that pale blue dot just over the horizon at the very end of the second video?

    Or are we suspecting that of being a lens flare?

  26. Eirin

    The Moon Princess had damn well be able to deliver good images of the Moon.

    Really, though, great stuff.

  27. “That’s no moon. It’s a space station.”

  28. StevoRaine

    Nah, its the Moon! 😉

    Awesome video -THX BA & Kaguya team. 8) :-)

    @ # 17. sophia8 :

    “You know, I’m sitting here just marvelling at the fact that I can watch hours of high-quality videos of the Moon’s surface. This would have been pretty much science fiction only thirty years ago. Now it’s “Hey, nice video – is there any more?”
    Science is bloody marvelous -and I’m bloody glad to be living at this time!”

    Well said & seconded by me. THX also again ‘Sophia 8’ for translating ‘KTHXBAI’ from textese on another thread the other day. Appreciated. :-)

    @ #23 Hale_Bopp :

    “Westerners” is an odd term for us Aussies! 😉 Culturally we’re Western, geographically we’re in the East – & South.

    Wonder if there’s any chance of us catching the impact in 7 X 50 binoculars? Anyone know?

  29. Maugrim

    Jon Voisey – that’s a lens flare. Remember that the Earth is bigger than the Moon – hence it would look bigger from the Moon than the Moon does from Earth – definitely not a tiny little dot!

  30. To.M

    Wow Amazing. As an occasional, look up at the sky kind of an astronomer. When I see these images they just blow me away.

    Seeing our Moon that up close and personal brings a tear to my eye.

  31. It always seems such a shame when they crash these satellites. I know we learn a lot from the crashes, but in terms of just helping the public connect with science and perceive the solar system, having constant high-resolution footage seems valuable – it doesn’t enhance understanding, perhaps, but it does enhance our perception. The constant stream of images from Cassini, for example, never fails to capture my imagination.

  32. Citizen of the Cosmos

    Always been a dream of mine to go there. Maybe one day at least I can go on a slingshot around the Moon. Wonderful video!

  33. Ray

    Why are they crashing it?

  34. Peter B

    Daniel Pope said: “It always seems such a shame when they crash these satellites.” and Ray asked: “Why are they crashing it?”

    They’re crashing it because they can’t keep it in orbit. It’s not possible to keep a satellite in lunar orbit in the long term, due to gravitational perturbations caused by masses of high density material beneath the Moon’s surface, and I think also from gravitational perturbations from the Earth.

    Seeing as it’s definitely going to crash, they’re better off controlling that crash and putting it where they want to when they want to.

  35. Alien Death-Ray

    Thanks Phil! Those were awesome! I highly recommend for everyone to check out even more amazing videos at the JAXA YouTube site. http://www.youtube.com/jaxachannel Choose the english versions if you want to view it in english. My favorites are earth-rise, earth set, and over the Apollo 17 landing site. Also check out the mission overview, titled “The Lunar Orbiter KAGUYA, a pioneer of the new lunar exploration century”. WOW! That is one AMAZING Orbiter!!! Thanks JAXA!

  36. jerry

    Isn’t the lens flare a clue this is a hoax from J. J. Adams?

  37. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Looks like good old japanese quality. Btw, whenever is US going to the Moon? (^_^)

  38. clyde

    Space junk! JAXA is littering our moon. At this time I would like to volunteer for the clean up crew. At least it’s not orbiting earth. And yes, the video is beyond my ability to equally describe with a thousand words.

  39. ShoeShine Boy

    Desolation, indeed!

  40. Fish

    They made a playlist of english versions of the videos, find it here:


  41. Speaker2a

    At the National Association of Broadcaster’s (NAB) tradeshow in Las Vegas in April, NHK showed HD footage from Kaguya shown in 3D. I believe they created the 3D effect by delaying the image to one eye but I’ve since lost my pamphlet. The amazing part of the video was watching the earth rise and set on the horizon. Very cool.

  42. WEUer

    This was absolutely stunning. I can’t help but think that it’s yet another “giant leap for mankind.”

    -And here’s the text from the beginning translated to the best of my ability for those who have less experience with oriental languages:


    starting time of footage April 16, 2009 22:58 (GMT)

    ending time of footage April 16, 2009 23:00 (GMT)

    Starting location of footage: 45 degrees south, 263-262 degrees east approximate

    Ending location of footage: 52 degrees south, 263-262 degrees east approximate

    Distance from surface of the moon approximately 11km


    starting time of footage April 22, 2009 11:30 (GMT)

    ending time of footage April 22, 2009 11:32 (GMT)

    Starting location of footage: 64 degrees south, 188-186 degrees east approximate

    Ending location of footage: 70 degrees south, 188-184 degrees east approximate

    Distance from surface of the moon approximately 21-22km

  43. Ian Grech

    I still think
    a) the moon is made of cheese
    b) Earth is flat AND hollow
    c) The Universe is made of a thick, dark chocolate like substance with granulated white chocolate mixed in.

  44. R

    Awsome video, but I’m still suspicious about it, it looks computer generated. But then again none of us have seen the moon up close except in bad quality.
    But why can’t you see a single star in the second video?

  45. Tom


    The surface of the moon reflects about the same percentage of light as dark asphalt. Imagine trying to see stars from the surface of the Earth at night while standing in a parking lot with enough lights so the asphalt is illuminated with the equivalent of DAYLIGHT.

  46. AR

    All that delicious He-3…

    Anyway, the first thing I thought of when I saw this post was the character Kaguya from the game Imperishable Night, also based on The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, which of course then made me think that more spacecraft should both have their own theme song, and be equipped to perform ridiculously spammy laser beam attacks.

    Now that I think about it, that game had a few songs of with suitable titles and epic feel for space travel, like Reach for the Moon, Immortal Smoke, Gensokyo Millennium, History of the Moon, and Voyage 1969, which makes sense since the game pays a bit of tribute to the Apollo program.

  47. T.E.L.

    AR Said:

    “All that delicious He-3…”

    And what would you do with all that luscious Helium-3 if you had it?

  48. AR

    If we have working fusion generators by then, sell it to power companies. If not, I’d do the same thing anyone does with worthless assets these days; get the government to buy it at a absurd price.

  49. T.E.L.

    AR Said:

    “If we have working fusion generators by then, sell it to power companies. If not, I’d do the same thing anyone does with worthless assets these days; get the government to buy it at a absurd price.”

    It could be stored alongside the strategic granite reserve.

  50. Elfminster

    This appears to be a 3d simulation of the moon surface, from topography map data taken with the onboard Terrain camera and Laser altimeter.

  51. Andrew

    If it only had gone down near an Apollo landing module we would have had the evidence we so badly need.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar