• Credit: Sky & Telescope magazine
04/19/2012 07:00:00

Caltech Alumni Help Make Over the Moon

New lunar globe is a more accurate model of Earth's only natural satellite

An entirely new globe of the moon—the first in over 40 years—is now available, thanks, in part, to Caltech alumni. Using images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, a team at Sky & Telescope magazine, including senior contributing editor Kelly Beatty (BS '73), developed the updated model. In addition to publishing a monthly astronomy magazine, S&T also develops a variety of space-related products like globes, sky atlases, books, and posters. 

Previous moon globes have used artistic renderings of the lunar surface. As Beatty noted in an S&T article, the surface detail on older models "doesn't look anything like what you'd see in the eyepiece [of a telescope]—there's little distinction between the dark lunar maria and the brighter highlands, for example. That old globe, while serviceable, just wasn't satisfying. So for years I've been prowling around for a suitable database of lunar photos to make a new one."

The hi-res photos that the team eventually used came from a modified version of the cameras designed for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and developed by Malin Space Science Systems, headed by Michael Malin (PhD '76). The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, launched aboard a NASA spacecraft in 2009, was used, in part, to assess meter-scale features of the moon and complete a global mapping effort with 100-meter resolution.

"The final mosaic consisted of more than 15,000 images acquired between November 2009 and February 2011, with the sun shining on the surface at incidence angles between 55° and 70° at the equator, lighting favorable for identifying surface features," writes Beatty.

After nearly a year of planning, the final result is an illustrated globe that actually looks like the moon, says Beatty, and includes over 850 labeled lunar features including craters, valleys, Apollo landing sites, and many more. For more information, read Beatty's full article on S&T's website. 

Written by Katie Neith