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One Year of the Moon in 2.5 Minutes

We don’t always have the time or ability to see the Moon every night of the year, but this video, from the Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio, uses data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and compresses one month into 12 seconds and one year into 2.5 minutes. This is how the Moon will look to us on Earth during the entire year of 2011. While the Moon always keeps the same face to us, it’s not exactly the same face. Because of the tilt in its axis and shape of its orbit, we see the Moon from slightly different angles over the course of a month, and the year. Normally, we don’t see how the Moon “wobbles” in its orbit, but seeing the Moon’s year this quickly, we can see the changes in libration, and axis tilt — as well as the most noticeable changes, the Moon’s phases.

This animation is the most accurate to date, showing shadows and other features on the Moon in incredible detail. This is thanks to the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) aboard LRO. The shadows are based on the global elevation map being developed from measurements by the LOLA, and the instrument has already taken more than 10 times as many elevation measurements as all previous missions combined.

If you want to know what the Moon looks like “right now” this page from the SVC is updated every hour showing the Moon’s geocentric phase, libration, position angle of the axis, and apparent diameter of the Moon. It also has images showing the different phases of the Moon, too.

The New Moon occurs when the Moon and Sun are at the same geocentric ecliptic longitude. The part of the Moon facing us is completely in shadow then. Pictured here is the traditional New Moon, the earliest visible waxing crescent, which signals the start of a new month in many lunar and lunisolar calendars. Credit: NASA Goddard SVC

Celestial north is up in these images, corresponding to the view from the northern hemisphere. The descriptions of the print resolution stills also assume a northern hemisphere orientation. To adjust for southern hemisphere views, rotate the images 180 degrees, and substitute “north” for “south” in the descriptions.

Source: Goddard Space Flight Center Science Visualization Studio


Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • J. Major June 14, 2011, 3:16 PM


  • Alberto Rguez. June 14, 2011, 3:31 PM

    Incredible. I’m wondering: if we were able to shot the same clip from the Sun, focusin the Earth, would we appreaciate that wobbling as well?

    • Ciaran Ruane June 14, 2011, 4:55 PM

      The Earth doesn’t always have the same side pointed at the sun (thankfully!) so you’d just see the Earth rotating viewed from the sun. Maybe Mercury though?

  • Ian Bryce June 14, 2011, 11:31 PM

    I am puzzled why the moon starts off being largest (ie closest) when full (ie opposite to the sun), but over the year this degrades to little change in size.

  • Emily Olafson June 15, 2011, 1:41 AM

    Is it just me, or does the moon get closer and farther away at certain points?

    • Justin Hartberger June 16, 2011, 4:28 PM

      Just as the Earth’s orbit around the Sun isn’t a perfect circle, neither is the Moon’s around the Earth. So yes, it will be closer and further away at different parts of its orbit during its cycle multiple times throughout an Earth year. In fact, the Moon is gradually pulling away from the Earth and will eventually escape.

  • Mimi Suhana Yaacob June 15, 2011, 3:04 PM


  • Mimi Suhana Yaacob June 15, 2011, 3:04 PM


  • Mitihiro Tatimoto June 22, 2011, 2:26 PM

    what a beautiful….