Lunar triple sunset

By Phil Plait | July 29, 2010 7:00 am

I never get tired of the stunning pictures being sent to Earth from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. This one is particularly cool:


It’s a little weird, isn’t it? What you’re seeing is sunset over some mountains on the Moon, with only the peaks popping up into the sunlight. It might help to pull back a bit:


[Click to embiggen.]

That’s a little better. You can see the long shadows of the two mountains on the hills farther back, giving the image a bit of context and relief.

But you’re still missing the coolest part. Ready? Here’s the entire shot:


Whoa! Getting the picture now? Those three mountains are actually the central peaks of the crater Bhabha, a 64 kilometer (40 mile) wide impact scar on the far side of the Moon. With really big impacts, the shock waves bounce around inside the crater bowl, making the rock flow like a fluid. The rock flows outward, then sloshes back inward, splashing up to form peaks. Usually there’s only one, but Bhaba has three.

This shot is from the west, facing east. It was taken just minutes before the Sun set over the peaks, throwing them into two weeks of darkness — remember, the far side of the Moon gets light just like the near side; when we see a thin crescent Moon that means the Sun is shining down on the other side, just like day on one side of the Earth means night on the other.

This picture is a vivid reminder that the Moon is a world in its own right. Eventually, I hope, people will once again get to see views like this by simply looking out the window. Until that time, LRO will provide us with these amazing pictures.

Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Bhaba crater, LRO, Moon

Comments (40)

  1. Bouch

    Simply awesome. I’ve seen images like that taken on Earth at sunset, but this is image is just too cool…

  2. Sion

    Is that anywhere near the crater Black Sheep?


    *crickets chirping*

  3. Snap! (pun)

    Great pic. LRO has quickly become one of my all time favorite spacecraft. Stunning images of the Moon and the Apollo landing sites? Not to mention the Russian lunar lander? Love it.

    I should note, my name along with all my family members’ names are up there. 😀

  4. Messier Tidy Upper

    @22. Sion : ROTFLMAO! 😀

    Well done – nice sequence of zooming out & writing up there BA. Superb. :-)

    Although one day I hope we get a fly by scene where we zoom the other way -from the crater into the three peaks (are they named Yes-Sir-1, 2 & 3 by any chance? 😉 ) all the way to one of the peaks where there is an astronaut – or three – completing the first ascent(s). Mountaineering on the Mountains of the Moon – the real Lunar ones and not their African namesake – blazes yes! :-)

    @3. Lewis Says:

    LRO has quickly become one of my all time favorite spacecraft. … I should note, my name along with all my family members’ names are up there.

    So I take your biased then? Crikey, *I* would be if I was in that situation! 😉

    Personally, my favourite remains Voyager II although there are just so many other great missions to choose from!

  5. Timmy

    I am taking my boy to the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL in a few weeks. WOOT! It is the first time for both of us so we are very excited. However, it’s sad that I’ll have to explain to him that not much has happened in manned space exploration for so many years and that Space Camp and the shuttle simulator are just about obsolete.

  6. Thomas Siefert

    Why do I think of Deuce Bigalow and cold water fish tank?

  7. Zucchi

    Fantastic. Here’s a big version of the full picture:

  8. daver

    Thank you for sharing that. It’s almost four peaks isn’t it?

    I can’t wait to show my kids.

  9. Sir Eccles

    Clearly faked because the shadows all point in different directions!

  10. Messier Tidy Upper

    A bit off-topic sorry but, BA, what’s your view on the rumours about the Kepler space observatory finding lots of earth-mass /diameter exoplanets for instance here :

    & here :

    I’m keen to know what you think of this.

    Plus on another topic (again not related to the triple peaks of this Baaba crater, sorry.) this breaking news would be in your area too :

    [Oliver Twist voice] Please can we some posts by you on these soon Dr Plait sir? Please? [/Oliver Twist voice off.] 😉


    PS. I’d send these as a private email or facebook message to you but I’m not sure whether you are recieving those or not so wanted to make sure. I know your busy & imagine you’ve heard about these and will probably post on them as I type this – but just in case not ..

  11. Treherne

    Its almost a lunar QUADRUPLE sunset! what does it mean?

  12. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Treherne – Does it have to mean *anything* or can it just be what it is :

    A remarkable place in an astonishing solar system? :-)

    If you’re standing there or flying over it, then it means your “not in Kansas anymore Toto!” 😉

    Scientifically, it means a particular impacting body hitting at a particular velocity and angle and a subsequent series of events that I don’t have the knowledge to fully explain here.

    Oh & it also means the ‘Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’ is working fine and doing a great job – thankyou to its designers and operators for bringing us this. :-)

    PS. sorry if I sound irritable, its wa-ay into the early hours of the morning – 2.15 a.m. and time I went to bed in my timezone.

  13. YosemiteBear

    @Messier Tidy Upper : But, OMG, a triple lunar sunset ! That’s amazing!!
    What does it mean?!?!

    OMG !!!

  14. Old Rockin' Dave

    @ Sion: I think Bhabha is near the crater Ghanoush.

  15. Messier Tidy Upper @ 10: Well – those are not rumours about Kepler planets. It is official that there are more than a hundred Earth-like (size-wise) planets in the Kepler data from the first year of its 3.5-year mission. These are *candidates* – we need follow-up observations from the ground, plus additional dips in the lightcurve of their parent stars (that is, at least three observed orbits around their star), in order to have them being confirmed planets. The various possibilities for false positives are statistically less likely than the 140 reported candidates, which makes the Kepler team rather confident in their assertion that Earth-like planets are rather common.
    Cheers, Regner

  16. Tom Head

    This just cries out for a “Three Peak Moon” t-shirt…

  17. DrFlimmer

    The first thing that came to my mind:

    Holy Bhabha!

    Or was it:

    Holy Babar?

    Then the crater nearby would, of course, be

    Crater Rataxes!

  18. Whoa!

    I am having a hard time trying to close my mouth with a dropped jaw!

    As we say it here in Nicaragua: “De acachimba!” :)

    I <3 LRO!

  19. Grimbold

    That is stupendously cool.

  20. I hadn’t realised LRO took shots at oblique angles like that – I thought they were all straight downwards. An oblique view of Mt.Pico or Mt.Piton in the Mare Imbrium would be extremely cool to see.

  21. Gary Ansorge

    10. Messier Tidy Upper

    The most recent issue of Scientific American has a great article on the geophysics of planets in the earth size range and how their structure may differ from our little dirt ball. It proposes that Earth may be at the lower limit for biologically inhabitable planets. It brings to mind Hal Clements stories of humans adapted to living in 2-3 G gravity fields.

    Dang, it’s great living in a time when we have SO much to discover . Now, if our biologists can just figure out a way to let me live long enough to actually see these places, I’d be happy(ok, I’m happy now. But I’m also greedy for more).


    Gary 7

  22. Grand Lunar

    Amazing how the moon still manages to amaze us, isn’t it?

    Nice find, Phil!

    I wonder if LRO has managed to get good images of the crater Tycho.
    That way, we find the monolith.

  23. Messier Tidy Upper

    @15. Regner Trampedach & 22. Gary Ansorge :

    Thanks. Can’t wait to hear more details and have these candidates confirmed. :-)

    @17. DrFlimmer Says:

    The first thing that came to my mind: Holy Bhabha!
    Or was it:Holy Babar?

    Ali Babbar? 😉

    @13. YosemiteBear Says:

    @Messier Tidy Upper : But, OMG, a triple lunar sunset ! That’s amazing!! What does it mean?!?!

    Well a “triple lunar sunset” must mean we’ve somehow had our Sun replaced and we’ve moved into a triple star system instead surely – right? 😉

  24. Alex

    I think pictures like these do far more to advance the cause of science and reason than a dozen articles arguing against nutcase woo.

  25. AJ

    Four peaks, surely? Or is it just me?

    How distinct does “a high part” have to be before it’s a peak?

  26. Dan

    There is no such word as “embiggen”. What’s wrong with “enlarge”? Why the need to invent new words?

  27. DLC

    Don’t let him fool you, it’s really the cloaking field around the Secret Nazi Base!

    Seriously though — cool pics, thanks Phil.

  28. Thomas




  29. Nigel Depledge

    Most excellent!

  30. Chris

    @27 Who’s inventing? It’s a perfectly cromulent word. (Sorry, had to be done)

    The peaks should definitely be called Mt. Master, Mt. Dame and Mt. Little Boy Who Lives Down the Lane

  31. Pierce R. Butler

    The rock flows outward, then sloshes back inward, splashing up to form peaks.

    Is there a more specific technical term for this particular phenomenon?

  32. Buzz Parsec

    @33, Pierce, technically it is known as a wibbly-wobbly splashy-rocky kind of a thing.

  33. Pierce R. Butler

    Thanks, Buzz @ # 34, but that may be a little too technical for the science fiction story involving such a formation that I may not get around to writing anyway…

  34. stan9fos

    For another perspective I tried seting this as my desktop on stretch mode, which distorts it a lot, but seemd to change the wiewpoint too. My netbook desktop is 1024 x 600, YMMV.

  35. What would you call the illusion experienced by the second shot in which it appears the upper portion of the photos looks like the roof of a cave?

  36. Jaideepblue

    Nice, I’m assuming its named after the great Indian physicist Homi Jahangir Bhabha (and first developer of the Indian A-bomb project)
    Conspiracy alert: Died in a mysterious air crash which is claimed to be the handiwork of the CIA to impede the a-bomb project.

  37. Jason

    so what about the parts of the image that are blacked out. why is the gov. along with NASA (who answers to the defense department) altering images captured by Clementine

    WHY THE Deception. What is going on there. what has been found


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