The Moon, In Depth

For years, scientists exploring the Earth’s moon have benefitted from detailed, three-dimensional views of the lunar landscape. Now, it’s easier than ever for anyone to see those same 3D pictures.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is a robotic spacecraft that circles the moon continuously, mapping the surface in gritty detail with its Narrow Angle Cameras. Sometimes, mission managers target a location for 3D imaging by sending the orbiter over the same spot twice, photographing the surface at two different angles. Those two perspectives can be combined to create a stereoscopic view.

One relatively easy way to recreate a sense of depth in those pictures is to split the images into red and cyan components. A viewer can then look at these pictures, called anaglyphs, through red-blue glasses, which have a red lens for the left eye and a blue one for the right. This sends only the correct part of the image to each eye, and the result is like magic: a picture with contours that seem to rise and fall right through the screen or the paper.

If you don’t already have some red-blue glasses, you’ll want to get a pair (they’re not too hard to come by) because the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter team at Arizona State University has recently assembled an entire collection of red-blue anaglyphs. See this page and search on the term “anaglyph”.

The moon’s surface is full of dramatic landscapes, and these 3D views are a fascinating way to explore them. Future robotic rovers and astronauts alike will find data like this to be a valuable guide to their expeditions. In the meantime, we can simply enjoy the incredible pictures. Here are just a few.

Hell Q (Anaglyph)


Hell Q is one of a group of craters on the lunar nearside, named for a Hungarian astronomer. This Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter narrow angle shot, showing an area only about five kilometers wide, is viewable in 3D using red-blue glasses. Credit: NASA / GSFC / Arizona State University

Thales Crater (Anaglyph)

A Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter view of the eastern part of Thales Crater. The rugged landscape is viewable in 3D using red-blue glasses. The full crater is about 32 kilometers from rim to rim. Credit: NASA / GSFC / Arizona State University

Catena Krafft (Anaglyph)

On the edge of the moon’s Oceanus Procellarum lies the crater Krafft, which is connected to the crater Cardanus by a crater chain called Catena Krafft. The chain, partially seen here in an image from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, is about 60 kilometers long. This image is viewable in 3D using red-blue glasses. Credit: NASA / GSFC / Arizona State University

This post originally appeared as a guest blog entry on The Planetary Society site.

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Your lead robot rider since 2005. Writer, photographer, science advocate. billdunford.com

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