We’re all familiar with the “man in the moon,” but that friendly face has a flip side we rarely see.
Thanks to nearly five years of mapping data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, we can take a peak at the hidden side of our closest satellite. NASA recently released a detailed computer simulation of what the view would look like from the moon’s hidden side. And to be honest, the view from Earth is better.
On the far side of the moon, you won’t see the smooth, dark plains called maria that give our side of the moon its anthropomorphic features. Instead, the moon’s hidden side is riddled with tightly spaced craters of all sizes. The far side is also home to the South Pole-Aitken basin, one of the largest impact features in the solar system (it’s the dark bruise covering the lower third of the moon).
The animation also makes clear why it isn’t accurate to call the far side of the moon the “dark side.” In fact, as seen here, the far side of the moon goes through the same cycles we see on Earth, but in reverse. When we see a full moon, for example, the far side is in the new moon phase.
A Closer Look
We caught our first glimpse of the moon’s far side back in 1959, thanks to the Soviet Luna 3 probe. Fifty years later, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has collected terabytes of data, which allowed scientists to build the high-definition simulation seen here.
So how did Earth end up seeing just one side of the moon? It all happened about 4 billion years ago when the moon became “tidally locked” to our planet. Check out Discover’s December 2014 issue for the entire explanation.