This visualization uses a digital 3D model of the Moon built from global elevation maps and image mosaics by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission. It was created to accompany a performance of Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune by the National Symphony Orchestra Pops, led by conductor Emil de Cou, at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, on June 1 and 2, 2018, as part of a celebration of NASA’s 60th anniversary.
Clair de Lune (moonlight in French) was published in 1905, as the third of four movements in the composer’s Suite Bergamasque, and unlike the other parts of this work, Clair is quiet, contemplative, and slightly melancholy, evoking the feeling of a solitary walk through a moonlit garden.
The visuals were composed like a nature documentary, with clean cuts and a mostly stationary virtual camera. The viewer follows the Sun throughout a lunar day, seeing sunrises and then sunsets over prominent features on the Moon. The sprawling ray system surrounding Copernicus crater, for example, is revealed beneath receding shadows at sunrise and later slips back into darkness as night encroaches.
This video is public domain and along with other supporting visualizations can be downloaded from the Scientific Visualization Studio at: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4655Clair de Lune 4K Version – Moon Images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter – YouTube
Those grainy Moon photos the public saw back in the early days of NASA’s Moon missions were a ruse!
No, not that ruse. Humans really went to the Moon. The ruse is that NASA actually captured much higher resolution images, but didn’t disclose them publicly because they didn’t want the Soviets to know how good their imaging technology was at the time.
Fifty years ago, 5 unmanned lunar orbiters circled the moon, taking extremely high resolution photos of the surface. They were trying to find the perfect landing site for the Apollo missions. They would be good enough to blow up to 40 x 54ft images that the astronauts would walk across looking for the great spot. After their use, the images were locked away from the public until after the bulk of the moon landings, as at the time they would have revealed the superior technology of the USA’s spy satellite cameras, which the orbiters cameras were designed from. The main worry was the USSR gaining valuable information about landing sites that the US wanted to use. In 1971 many of the images were released, but nowhere near to their potential quality, and mainly to an academic audience as public interest in the moon had waned. Up until 2008 most of the reported images from the project were the 1966 versions that were grainy and lower quality.McMoon: How the Earliest Images of the Moon Were so Much Better than we Realised
Instead, they were able to capture pretty high resolution images, like this one:
The story of how this was done, and the later effort to recover these images from storage, is fascinating:
It involves setting up shop in an abandoned McDonalds, and using a variety of old, and new tools to digitise this incredible archive.
You can find the catalogue here: Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project online data volumes (here’s a direct link to the
.png collection). The images are pretty big!
Of course we also have some pretty impressive, high resolution imagery from more recent Lunar missions such as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, too: