I recently explored a site called QuickMap. Images of our Moon and the planets Mars and Mercury are available in a unique interface format. I want to share some of what I found interesting about the Moon images at QuickMap.
It is quite amazing and wonderful how much access the public has to science data from astronomy missions. More and more of the publicly funded missions have made their data available. Much of the data is in the form of images. One big problem faced is how to make sense of all the images and data measurements in a simple interface or format that is user friendly. One of the best organizations at this business is the NASA Scientific Visualization Studio. Take some time to browse their site when you have a chance.
One of the many lunar science missions is Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Launched in June 2009, LRO is in an eccentric egg-shaped orbit varying from 19 up to 112 miles. It’s in an orbit that takes it over the poles of the Moon each time around. It carries six instruments including a high resolution camera. It monitors the lunar surface in numerous ways and the information will be valuable for future landing missions when humans return.
The cameras are capable of seeing great detail such as this landing site for Apollo 17. Notice the dual tracks left by the lunar rover around the descent stage of Apollo as well as the narrow single line trails left by feet of the astronauts. The Apollo landing sites have been imaged by LRO in great detail.
The LRO spacecraft has returned to Earth a huge quantity of images and data and continues to do so. The QuickMap tool compiles the vast amounts of information into a relatively simple interface that allows one to zoom in to virtually any place on the Moon in any of several wavelengths that have been sampled. The near side, far side, and both poles are included. The example I will show you is in the visible spectrum your eyes can see. You can go to the Moon by following this link. It will work on desktop and mobile devices. This view in my example has a yellow box I drew later to highlight where I zoomed closer to see the crater Menelaus.
Zooming in to the previous yellow box, we get a much closer view of the Menelaus crater showing the rim, floor, and other smaller craters nearby. This image is actually a composite of several other images from the LRO spacecraft.
The QuickMap interface has a tool which allows you to draw a slice line through the crater and see a chart that profiles the width and elevation of the crater all along the slice drawn. In the upper right of the image is a wrench. When clicked in QuickMap, it shows three tools. The middle one is a line tool. I used it to draw the green line across the crater, then double clicked on the end point. The cross-section chart popped up. Based upon LRO data, the crater is several thousand meters deep and about 28 km across from rim to rim. My green line was 37.2 km long. You can even download the elevation data to a spreadsheet for more analysis on your own.
There is also a rectangle tool. I used it to draw a box around the crater. Clicking the box brought up a Query option. I chose 3D Live and got this as a result. Next, I selected the NEW! Click here… link.
It gave me a 3D rendered image of the crater. This short video shows me moving the crater image around and changing the vertical scale to exaggerate the relief. That was very cool to be able to manipulate the image so easily.
So far, I was having a lot of fun playing with the interface. After a while, I wondered what else I could see by zooming in even closer on this crater. I chose to zoom in just below right of center where that yellow box is located. When I scrolled my mouse, the image got larger and looked like this with a bunch of vertical strips. Those strips are actually individual images captured by LRO on many previous passes over the crater. The quality was a lot sharper than before. So, I continued to head for the yellow box for more detail.
That is when I noticed something unusual. It appears there is a line, or trail, barely visible in the dust. I zoomed in again toward that yellow box.
It was a trail left by a boulder rolling down a slope toward lower elevation. This big one was the size of a house. Several other smaller ones are also visible. I scanned around the slope and found many others. Some had rolled large distances and up the slope on the other side.
I spent several more hours looking at other places on the near and far side of the Moon for more examples of rolling stones. They were not hard to find once I figured what kind of land forms they tended to roll from. Ledges with lots of loose boulders, fresh craters, and long ravines, or rilles, yielded the most examples. Below is a gallery of several for your viewing pleasure. Click on any one of them to view at full size. Remember, the large boulders are about the size of a house. Gravity on the Moon is 1/6 as strong as Earth’s gravity. If you could watch a rolling stone, it would bound down in a slow motion way kind of like this falling astronaut on the Moon.