Dive Into the Moon!

The entire universe in blog form
March 19 2014 7:45 AM

Explore a 680 Gigapixel Map of the Moon’s North Pole

Moon north pole
If you zoom in enough, you can see Santa's summer home. Click to enselenate.

Photo by NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

The folks on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera team just released an unbelievable image of the Moon: A 680 gigapixel mosaic showing details of the lunar north pole down to two meters across!

The mosaic is available as a scan-and-pan interactive page, where you can zoom in and sweep across the moonscape. There are a few interesting spots listed that you can click and zoom right to, like this lovely (and, judging from the fresh rays and sharp contours, relatively young) crater:

fresh lunar crater
They're so cute when they're young.

Photo by NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Advertisement

You can zoom in pretty far, and I suggest making it full screen. It’s almost overwhelming at that size.

The mosaic is a combination of 841 tiles; the raw file (which, understandably, they don't make available for download) is well over three terabytes in size. As for the original images, LRO is in a polar orbit around the Moon, meaning it’s moving in a mostly north-south manner. As it orbits, the Moon slowly spins underneath it, so eventually LRO sees the entire lunar surface. Due to the geometry of the orbit, this means the terrain it sees at a given latitude has roughly the same lighting. That’s important: A crater looks very different when the Sun is low (and shadows long) compared with at noon, when the Sun is high (and shadows nonexistent).

So you can think of the mosaic as made up of a series of concentric rings of parallel longitudes, each with about the same Sun elevation, with the Sun getting lower as you move northward (because at any given time, the Sun is lower the farther north you go). That’s why the overall mosaic looks flatter near the edge and bumpier in the middle: At the pole the shadows are longest, and you see the contours of the terrain better.

And how much of the Moon does this mosaic cover? A total of 2.5 million square kilometers, or just about a million square miles! That’s a lot of Moon. To give you an idea of the area, here’s the mosaic overlaid on a map of the United States:

Moon map and the US
If you get caught between the Moon and New York City... Click to enarthurnate.

Photo by NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Yegads. And all of that is mapped, down to a resolution of a few meters per pixel. That’s astonishing. And it makes me wonder: Will future explorers use maps like this as they bounce around the Moon’s surface, prospecting, or running experiments, or simply going out for a stroll?

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?