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October 15, 2015
Ever wonder what it would be like to wander around the Moon? Sky gazers can now journey there without leaving their desk.
The full Image Map of the Moon showing an image mosaic created from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Wide Angle Camera aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. Photo Credit: USGS/NASA/ASU

Travel to the Moon 

Ever wonder what it would be like to wander around the Moon? Sky gazers can now journey there without leaving their desk. A gorgeous pair of new lunar maps – the Image Mosaic and Topographic Maps of the Moon - is now available online.

These maps were designed to help both the public and scientists understand the overall appearance and topography of the Moon. Viewers can locate features of interest, including Apollo landing sites and specific impact craters. Amateur astronomers can use the maps to directly compare what they see through their telescopes to features on the map.

The printed versions of the new maps can be placed on a wall or quickly accessed for general reference, while the online version offers viewers an opportunity to zoom in to examine features.

This figure is a close-up of the Image Map of the Moon showing the Apollo landing sites and some other successful landed missions near them. Copernicus crater, a 96 km diameter crater, is on the left. The figure is centered at about 11° east longitude and +9° latitude. Photo Credit: USGS/NASA/ASU

Far-Out Images

These new maps were constructed using images and topographic (elevation) data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which has been orbiting the Moon since 2009.

The first map (Sheet 1) is an image mosaic based on data from the Wide Angle Camera (WAC), a camera onboard the LRO. This image mosaic map shows the official names of physical features, such as volcanoes and impact craters, across the entire surface of the Moon.

“Images from the LRO Camera have greatly advanced our knowledge of the Moon,” said Dr. Mark Robinson, the principal investigator for the LRO Camera and professor at Arizona State University. “High resolution images have revealed very young lunar volcanoes ten to 100 million years old, contrary to conventional wisdom which suggests that lunar volcanism ceased between one and two billion years ago.”

The full Topographic Map of the Moon showing a derived colorized shaded relief map from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. Photo Credit: USGS/NASA/ASU

Getting the Lay of the Land

The second map (Sheet 2) is based on topographic data from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA), another instrument onboard the LRO.

“The LOLA data are a foundational dataset to be used in multiple types of studies for years to come,” said Dr. Erwan Mazarico, a co-investigator for the LOLA instrument. “The exceptional quality of the topographic map is a direct result of the large amount of data LOLA has collected over several years.”

This map’s colors indicate the elevation of different areas of the Moon’s surface, with the blue shades indicating low elevation areas, white indicating moderate elevation areas, and the gray to black shades indicating high elevation areas. One can imagine the large impact craters and smooth lava plains covered with water, giving the appearance of deep blue oceans, with the gray and black lunar highlands being the Moon’s mountains.

Geographic Regions of the Moon

Map showing both the image and topographic bases. The image base on the left has been stretched to highlight the lunar maria, which were formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. Photo Credit: USGS/NASA/ASU

The Moon has two geographic regions that are readily apparent to the naked eye, and can be distinguished on the maps as the bright and dark areas. The lunar “maria” (Latin for “seas”) are the dark, smooth areas, and were named by early astronomers who believed them to be true seas. The lunar maria are volcanic plains, formed by ancient volcanic eruptions of basaltic lava which flowed over the Moon’s surface and filled the low elevation areas. The bright areas - the lunar highlands – are composed of a rock type called anorthosite, and are generally at higher elevations than the lunar maria.

The highest point on the lunar surface is 6,358 feet higher than the summit of Mt. Everest, the highest point on Earth. Viewers can find the highest point on the map, which is 35,387 feet above the Moon’s average elevation, near the crater Engel’gradt. The lowest area on the Moon is 29,836 feet below the Moon’s average elevation. This low point can be found in the southern part of the topographic map, within South Pole-Aitken Basin, an enormous impact crater.

As marked on the Topographic Map of the Moon, this figure shows the highest spot (near 200° east longitude, +6° latitude) and lowest spot (near 188° east longitude, -70° latitude) on the Moon based on data from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter. Photo Credit: USGS/NASA/ASU

Improvements on the Previous Lunar Chart

“One of the last NASA published global maps of the Moon was NASA’s 1979 Lunar Chart (LPC-1), and this new public release product updates the Lunar Chart in several important ways,” said Brent Archinal, a scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center.

The early Lunar Chart was drawn by airbrush artists and based on telescopic and orbital images of the Moon, but the new Image Mosaic map is derived directly from digital photographs of the Moon. The Lunar Chart had little topographic information, while the new maps present elevation data. The Topographic Map shows the information with detailed color-coding based on high accuracy LOLA laser altitude data. The terms and names used in the current maps are up to date, following current International Astronomical Union recommendations. All features that are more than about 50 miles in size are labeled, and some smaller features of interest are labeled as well.

These maps were made possible by NASA, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera team, and the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter team. Funding was provided by NASA's Planetary Geology and Geophysics Cartography Program.