[Over the past few weeks, I've collected a metric ton of cool pictures to post, but somehow have never gotten around to actually posting them. Sometimes I was too busy, sometimes too lazy, sometimes they just fell by the wayside... but I decided my computer's desktop was getting cluttered, and I'll never clean it up without some sort of incentive. I've therefore made a pact with myself to post one of the pictures with an abbreviated description every day until they're gone, thus cleaning up my desktop, showing you neat and/or beautiful pictures, and making me feel better about my work habits. Enjoy.]
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, one of my favorite space probes ever, takes amazing high-res pictures of the lunar surface. But more than that, it can map the elevations of lunar features using shadows as a guide. Knowing the angles of the Sun, the Moon, and its viewing position, it can accurately gauge the elevations of the Moon's surface as it takes image after image, orbit after orbit.
The scientists on LRO used that information to put together a wild topographic map of the Moon's far side:
In this map, red represents stuff higher up, blue lower down. The resolution is decent: 100 meters across the surface (NSEW) and 20 meters vertically. Not enough to keep you from stubbing your toe if you're walking across Mare Orientale, but enough to get pretty good info on the geological history of our nearby cosmic neighbor.
Of course, the picture I've displayed here -- and even the embiggened version if you click it -- doesn't really convey the scale of this map. For that, you really need to check out the pan-and-zoom version. That lets you drill down into the data and see just how detailed this map really is.
And stay tuned. In a few months the LRO team will release a new version of this map; the spacecraft is still plugging away over the Moon, and there's more way cool stuff yet to come.
Image credit: NASA/GSFC/DLR/Arizona State University