Fly Me to the Moon

Bad Astronomy
Hat tip to Bad Astronomy, who is currently on something of a lunar bender owing to Apollo 11′s 40th anniversary and an actual time-lapse, color video of the moon crossing in front of the Earth. Joe Huber/Wikipedia; JAXA/SELENE

You've still got a couple days this month to step outside, look up, and enjoy a tremendous yellow moon. One of my favorite features is that little belly-button of a crater at the bottom, called Tycho. When the moon is full, this crater and the long rays emanating from it always make me wonder if perhaps the whole orb is just a delicate paper lantern.

But if appreciating a real Moon involves too much squinting, or if the mosquitoes where you live simply won't permit prolonged viewing, give thanks that you live in an era of unprecedented space exploration. Since last year, a Japanese probe called SELENE has been taking thousands of high-resolution images of Tycho. Now the scientists have pieced the images together into an animated video flyover of the crater in fantastic detail.

In these days of Google Earth and computer-rendered fighting pandas, it can be difficult to appreciate reality as anything more than a poor approximation of a movie. But the cliffs, plains, and pinnacles sweeping past in the video really are up there, rotating in space and baking under the glare of the Sun.

That pinprick in Tycho's center, for example, is a mile-high mountain range complete with jagged peaks, old remains of landslides, and what looks like a totally manageable hike up one side. SELENE takes you on a 360-degree, eye-level tour and then, just as a flourish, spins out to the crater rim and zooms along the side like a NASCAR driver going into a turn.

Incidentally, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's SELENE homepage offers a refreshing and inimitably Japanese take on what a space agency's website can look like.

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