NASA Releases 3D Moon Map

3D maps are amazing, letting people get a virtual tour of distant, faraway places. They’re the evolution of Pictorial maps, and, boy, they are something. It’s not just me that think that, as NASA seems to agree. The US aerospace agency recently released a 3D map of the Moon, making their data more easily accessible to the general public.

Made using the data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and brought to life by the scientific visualizer, Ernie Wright, who works at Greenbelt, Maryland’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s Scientific Visualization Studio. Published online, this CGI Moon model was made as a Scientific Visualization Studio (SVS) resource, but published it for public use.

Wright stated, about the model, is that it will help bring LRO data to the general public, especially to artists who want to do similar things. They’re no Pictorial maps, but they’re a useful resource, all the same.

The LRO is an unmanned mission to map out the Lunar surface, and its work has allowed for several key discoveries in the field, including creating a new image of the moon as a dynamic, and complex body; an actual satellite.

One of the key functions of the LRO mission is to study the Moon, which it has been doing since 2019, in order to properly map its topography, which is being done in order to generate data for a safer landing, as part of efforts for the Artemis program.

Two components on the LRO spacecraft have been key to these efforts; the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), as well as the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA). The former functions much like a scanner, generating images line-by-line, via tracking the motion of the spacecraft as it moves over the lunar surface. LOLA, meanwhile, develops images of the moon via laser pulses.

LRO Scientist Noah Petro stated that he knows just how important Wright’s work really is, as his visual work allows them to illustrate ideas and concepts, to understand the Lunar surface as a whole. He adds that, thanks to Wright’s work, how people see and interpret information has changed.

Wright says that the hard part is properly setting the scenes. 3D animation, he says, is a lot like live-action filming, with a lot of lights, cameras, and the like, but visualization is akin to creating a documentary; crafting a narrative with the facts.