Rotating Moon from LRO
Because our Moon is tidally locked, or in synchronous rotation to the Earth, it only ever shows us one side – the near side of Moon. At some point in the distant past, the Moon did rotate from our perspective, but as Earth’s gravity kept pulling unevenly at the Moon, slowing its rotation, eventually the Moon locked into place, always displaying the same side to us. However, given modern digital technology, combined with detailed images returned by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), the above high resolution virtual Moon Rotation tour becomes possible. (Video Credit: LRO/Arizona State U/NASA)
The time-lapse video starts with our standard Earth view of the Moon. Very quickly Mare Orientale rotates into view just below the equator. Mare Orientale, which means ‘eastern sea‘ but is actually on the Moon’s western edge, is mostly out of view from here on Earth. However, as the Moon appears to wobble a bit, occasionally part of Orientale will peek into view. The entire system spans nearly 1,000 miles, consists of a circular patch of dark rock surrounded by three rings of mountains, and was formed about 3.8 billion years ago as the result of a large asteroid slamming into the Moon.
The video condenses an entire lunar month, or the amount of time it takes for the Moon to pass through each of its phases and return to its original position, into 24 seconds. It also shows that the Earth-facing side of the Moon contains an abundance of dark lunar Maria – or large, dark, basaltic plains. And the lunar far side is dominated by bright lunar Highlands. Both the Maria and the Highlands exhibit large craters that are the result of meteor impacts.
Two new Lunar exploratory missions are scheduled to begin before the end of the year. The first, which is NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) was launched just over a week ago and is scheduled to begin orbiting the Moon in October to explore the thin and unusual lunar atmosphere. Then in December the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) is scheduled to launch the Chang’e 3 phase of its Chinese Lunar Exploration Program which will incorporate a soft lander and robotic rover. The lander is scheduled to touch down on the Sinus Iridum basaltic plain at a latitude of 44° north. Once doing so, it will become the first spacecraft to perform a soft landing on the Moon since the Soviet Union‘s Luna 24 in 1976, thus breaking a 37-year gap in lunar surface exploration.
If you’re into tours which are more ‘self-guided’, and would like to check out the Moon more closely visit Google Moon for an interactive and zoom-able 3-D map tour of the Apollo Program landings sites. (Warning: This is completely awesome and insanely addictive!)
Mare Orientale – Image Credit: NASA / GSFC / Arizona State U / Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter