Desktop Project Part 6: Psychedelic topographic Moon

By Phil Plait | March 31, 2012 7:00 am

[Over the past few weeks, I’ve collected a metric ton of cool pictures to post, but somehow have never gotten around to actually posting them. Sometimes I was too busy, sometimes too lazy, sometimes they just fell by the wayside… but I decided my computer’s desktop was getting cluttered, and I’ll never clean it up without some sort of incentive. I’ve therefore made a pact with myself to post one of the pictures with an abbreviated description every day until they’re gone, thus cleaning up my desktop, showing you neat and/or beautiful pictures, and making me feel better about my work habits. Enjoy.]

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, one of my favorite space probes ever, takes amazing high-res pictures of the lunar surface. But more than that, it can map the elevations of lunar features using shadows as a guide. Knowing the angles of the Sun, the Moon, and its viewing position, it can accurately gauge the elevations of the Moon’s surface as it takes image after image, orbit after orbit.

The scientists on LRO used that information to put together a wild topographic map of the Moon’s far side:

In this map, red represents stuff higher up, blue lower down. The resolution is decent: 100 meters across the surface (NSEW) and 20 meters vertically. Not enough to keep you from stubbing your toe if you’re walking across Mare Orientale, but enough to get pretty good info on the geological history of our nearby cosmic neighbor.

Of course, the picture I’ve displayed here — and even the embiggened version if you click it — doesn’t really convey the scale of this map. For that, you really need to check out the pan-and-zoom version. That lets you drill down into the data and see just how detailed this map really is.

And stay tuned. In a few months the LRO team will release a new version of this map; the spacecraft is still plugging away over the Moon, and there’s more way cool stuff yet to come.

Image credit: NASA/GSFC/DLR/Arizona State University

Related Posts:

Video of the lunar far side from GRAIL/Ebb
Tiny lunar volcanoes
The extraordinary back of the Moon
The extraordinary face of the Moon

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (15)

  1. Other Paul

    So, the mome raths have been busy.

  2. Jai Guru Deva. Ommmm….

  3. Hey, I’m supposed to be doing errands around the house, not exploring the moon all morning!

  4. Wow. That really illuminates (heh!) just how deep and wide the Aitken Basin is, and what a dramatic whack it must have been. That would’ve really been something to see–but not from too close.

  5. Messier Tidy Upper

    How very colourful it makes our Moon look! Nice. :-)

    Off topic,sorry, but remember that high altitude, high latitude Martian cloud? :

    Well there’s more on that here :

    which may be of interest I hope. :-)

    Thinking of the Moon did you hear about this :

    BA? The Apollo 11 first stage engines have been located on the seafloor and may be raised. 8)

    (Yeah, I sure you get a bazillion emails a day and you’ve probably already heradand are about to blog on that but just in case not ..)

  6. Pete Jackson

    Great image! These topographic maps really show what has been going on in the planet/moon’s history and are fantastic for understanding. The ones for Mars are excellent in showing the ways that liquids (water, lava) have flowed in the past.

  7. Wesley Struebing

    Wow…WOW! (I think I struck water down there in the South!)

  8. Pat

    Great….Now you tell me….Where was this last week when I needed it.

  9. Jeff Eriksen

    can you point us to a similar picture of the “near” side for comparison?

  10. Sarah

    Tales from topographic oceans

  11. Gary Ansorge

    Naw, not an acid trip. It’s WAY to well defined…where’s the Wave?

    Gary 7

  12. JeffB

    The topography is mind boggling – I see some cliffs that look to be 5000 meters tall.


Discover's Newsletter

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


See More

Collapse bottom bar