A moon-orbiting spacecraft has compiled a nearly complete map of the lunar surface at its highest resolution to date.
The moon is our closest celestial neighbor, but our knowledge of its topography is still fuzzy. That's changing quickly, thanks to the camera on board NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which is being used to locate potential landing sites and lunar resources. LRO has dramatically sharpened our view of the moon's surface since it was launched in 2009.
The newest maps achieve a resolution of 100 meters—each pixel represents roughly the area of two football fields placed side by side. The color-coded image above uses red and white to represent the highest elevations, and blue and purple represent the lowest. (To click and zoom in on specific areas, check out this map.)
LRO orbits the moon pole to pole, allowing it to repeatedly pass over most of the lunar surface. To create the maps, the spacecraft's camera snapped 57-kilometer-wide shots of its rims, craters and rocks. As the lunar lighting changed throughout several months, LRO captured the same topographic features under different lighting and shading conditions, further helping to illuminate their three-dimensional characteristics.
"Our new topographic view of the moon provides the data set that lunar scientists have waited for since the Apollo era," Mark Robinson, lead scientist for LRO's camera team, said in a statement. [We can now] "determine how the crust has deformed, better understand impact crater mechanics, investigate the nature of volcanic features, and better plan future robotic and human missions to the moon."