The Moon As You’ve Never Seen Her Before!

“Everything has a natural explanation. The moon is not a god, but a great rock.” –Anaxagoras

The Moon, as you well know, is one of the spectacular sights of the night sky, especially when it’s full.

Image credit: Luc Viatour.

Even those of us with imperfect vision can see differences between the large, dark areas (known as maria) of dried-up lava beds and the bright, white mountainous regions. But through even the smallest of telescopes or binoculars, brilliant features — invisible to the naked eye — emerge.

Image credit: Naoyuki Kurita.

One of the largest craters on the Moon, Copernicus, is just barely invisible to the naked eye, and easily visible with binoculars. At 93 km in diameter, Copernicus is notable for being relatively young for a huge crater — only 800 million years old — and also for being very isolated, as its found in the middle of one of the great lunar maria!

Image credit: Apollo 17.

It was also famously imaged by Apollo 17, above. But it’s impossible to see the Moon as well from Earth as we can from up close.

Luckily for you, we just finished making the most accurate map ever of the near side of the Moon!

Say hello to NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO for short, orbiting the Moon just 50 kilometers above the surface. (All subsequent images come from LRO/NASA/Goddard, and the men and women working with that data.) Scientists have just constructed the most accurate map of the near side of the Moon — the side we can see from Earth — from the last year of LRO data! It’s nothing you haven’t seen before…

I mean, it’s the Moon, right?

You can click, above, for a 1400 x 1400 pixel, labeled image of the near side of the Moon. But why settle for mere computer wallpaper, when you can go for the most detailed map ever? (Click that link at your own risk!)

Because if you go here instead, you can zoom in to the highest resolution available anywhere on the near side of the Moon! And just to show you how much fun you can have with this, I decided to post some shots of Copernicus Crater!

Still zoomed-out pretty far, you can get a pretty good appreciation for how hard the Moon must’ve been hit to create this crater! Take a look at the striations leading away from the crater, and at the great peaks in the center. (I can’t help but note the similarity to a water drop.)

But of course, we can go in farther. And you can see the huge relief in shadow and light, with the Sun off to the right of the picture. You can also notice tiny, little craters superimposed atop the ridges of Copernicus.

But this isn’t even close to as far as we can look.

Now we’re talking! Don’t forget that this crater is 93 km across, or more than three times as wide as the Grand Canyon!

But I want to take you in to as close as individual pixels will let me…

And at this scale, each pixel is just 145 meters on a side! Check out the different layers of the crater wall. Impressive, to be sure. But remember, you have the whole Moon to play with at this resolution! So what are you doing here?

See if you can find my favorite tiny lunar feature, above. (I named it “Snakey.”)

So go. Play. Enjoy. And tell me if you find anything cooler than Snakey!