The Moon is packed with all sorts of interesting features that only come to light — literally, in some cases — when very high-resolution imaging is done. For example, the lunar far side has a bunch of small volcanoes, some only a few hundred meters across, like this one:
[Click to enlunenate.]
The image is about 500 meters across, so this is a hill you could climb pretty easily, even though the low Sun angle implies the slope is greater than 13° (remember, the Moon has 1/6th the Earth’s gravity so that would be a pretty easy hike). Those boulders on the top are weird; they only appear to be on one side, and there doesn’t seem to be anything in that direction that would be a source of them. There are none on the plains around it, or at the bottom of a nearby crater, either. The source must be the volcano itself, I’d wager. Note the crater at the top of the mound, too – you might think that’s the volcanic vent, but in fact it’s not centered on the dome, indicating it’s a coincidental impact crater.
Well, today is certainly shaping up to be "jaw-dropping pictures of Atlantis day"! How so? Well, I already posted the stunning image of the Orbiter’s descent as seen from space, and just the other day I mentioned how I was hoping Nathanial Burton-Bradford would make more 3D images… so guess what? Get out your red/cyan glasses: here’s the plasma-lit descent of Atlantis as seen from space in 3D!
Wow! The ISS astronauts took several pictures of the Orbiter as it descended. Nathanial took two of them from NASA’s spaceflight gallery and combined them to make this anaglyph. If you click between the two original shots (here and here) you can see they were taken a few seconds apart; the motion of the stars, the Earth, and the plasma plume change a little bit (click between them rapidly and you’ll actually get a feel of the motion. Weird).
The other pictures at the NASA page are amazing as well. Funny, when I first heard of the plasma picture I poked around NASA’s site and couldn’t find any other images, but clearly I either missed them or they weren’t up yet. I’m glad Nathanial dug deeper! In his shot, you really get a sense of how far away the Orbiter was from the ISS. In fact, there is a layered feel to the whole scene, with the stars far away, the ISS in the foreground, and the Earth itself stretched out from below you to the horizon.
If you don’t have red/cyan glasses, this one shot makes it worth the effort. It’s truly amazing. More than just a gimmick, a picture like this really gives you a visceral sense of what you’re seeing. Truly wonderful.
Last month, scientists using the GOCE spacecraft released a model of the Earth’s geoid: essentially, a shape telling you which way is down. If the Earth were a perfectly smooth sphere of constant density throughout, gravity would pull you straight down to the center (perpendicular to the surface). But if a dense hill were nearby, the gravity of that hill would change the direction of the force of gravity. The geoid maps that, and is very useful to understand things like ocean currents and such.
The resulting geoid resembles a bizarre, lumpy Earth. It was pretty neat, but now Nathanial Burton-Bradford has made it better: he took the data and made 3D anaglyphs!
This one shows the view over North and South America. It doesn’t look like much to the eye, but if you have red/green or red/blue 3D glasses, the 3D jumps right out at you. He has lots more of these from various angles over the Earth’s geoid model, and man are they weird. There’s something truly odd about seeing the Earth this way.
He has lots of other 3D images he’s made (I’ve linked to his incredible Apollo pictures before), including some amazing ones of icicles and such, at that link. If you have the 3D glasses it’s really worth perusing them.