So You Want to Look at the Moon?

The Moon. Photo credit: NASA.

This Saturday September 22, 2012 marks the 3rd annual International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN), when people all over the world will gather to observe the Moon. But what do you do the rest of the year? Luckily, in today’s internet age, there is a great deal of lunar data, from a range of missions, available on-line for you to look at. Also, some great tools have been developed that make data easy to access, put into context, and interpret, giving everyone the power to explore the Moon like a scientist. All you need to do it click on the URL and you’re off…

InOMN was originally started in as a celebration of the wonderful lunar data that was being returned by missions such as the Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter, Chandrayaan-1, and other spacecraft. Since then it has grown to phenomenal proportions, with hundreds of individual events hosted literally all over the world. To learn more about InOMN, or to find the event nearest you, visit the InOMN website.

But what do you do if there is no event being hosted near you, or if the weather turns cloudy in your geographic region? You can always join the CosmoQuest InOMN Hangout on Google+.

For more information about InOMN, listen to a 365 Days of Astronomy podcast on this year’s event.

However, a true passion and interest in the Moon is not a one day thing. What if you want to look at the Moon on some other day, or see details that are too small to be resolved by even the largest telescopes on Earth? As it happens, data from those same missions that inspired the very first InOMN is very easy for the average person to see, any time they want to. Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) data from the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft can be accessed on-line using the ACT-REACT Quick Map tool.

ACT-REACT Quick Map tool
ACT-REACT Quick Map ( places skinny little strips of high resolution data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera into context on the Moon. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.


This LROC version of the ACT-REACT Quick Map tool (there is also a MESSENGER version for Mercury data) was originally developed by the LROC team to place skinny little strips of LROC Narrow Angle Camera data into context on the Moon, and to help with targeting for further high resolution data collection. They partnered with software firm Applied Coherent Technology (ACT) to create this relatively user friendly on-line tool, and then made it accessible for anyone who wants to use it!

The interface of the ACT-REACT Quick Map tool is fairly intuitive. If you have used Google Maps, you should be able to navigate your way around fairly quickly. For more details on the available features, check out the LROC data user tutorial and the M3 data user tutorial. Though, one of the first things you might want to know how to do is to turn off the bright colours that represent elevation (uncheck the LROC WAC Color Shaded Relief checkbox). This shaded relief layer is great when you want to understand the topography of fairly large features, but is more distracting than helpful when looking at highest resolution data.

Colour Shaded Relief layer
The colour shaded relief data is great at showing off the elevation of large features, but is less useful when zoomed in to smaller scales. Turn it off by unchecking the LROC WAC Color Shaded Relief checkbox. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University


The most exciting thing about the ACT-REACT Quick Map tool is that it makes these amazing lunar data sets available to the public in a way that was never possible before. Anyone sitting at their computer at home can study the Moon, viewing large lunar features, like impact basins and maria, and then zooming into to see details as small as their desk. This kind of technological advance opens the door for every enthusiast to conduct their own personal explorations of the Moon, and gives them an opportunity to see and think like the scientists who are currently working with this data to discover new and exciting information about our Moon.

Landslides Zoom-In
Zooming in allows you to see spectacular landslides along the walls of a crater. At the highest resolutions, individual boulders can be seen. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University


So, after International Observe the Moon Night is over, don’t wait until next year to look at the Moon again. Head over to ACT-REACT Quick Map and start exploring!

September 18 is International Observe the Moon Night

The first annual International Observe the Moon Night is Sept. 18, 2010.


There’s nothing like gazing at the Moon on a clear night, especially when you can share it with someone. Why not share it with the world? September 18, 2010 is the first annual International Observe the Moon Night, and this is planned to become an annual event to engage the public and raise awareness about the night sky and particularly the Moon, as well as spreading the word about NASA’s work in lunar research and exploration. Event planners hope to bring people together with both professional and amateur astronomers, and there are events planned all around the world and on the world wide web, as well.

“Last year NASA Ames and NASA Goddard each had individual events that were very successful, so we decided to do it again, but make it bigger and better and ask the rest of the world to join in,” said Doris Daou, who is the Director of Communications and Outreach for the NASA Lunar Science Institute.

Last year’s events celebrated the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s successful orbit insertion around the Moon and the Goddard Center hosted an event called “We’re at the Moon!” while NASA Ames had a “National Observe the Moon Night.”

“Since this year is now an international event, we have an overarching theme, ‘Seeing the Moon in a Whole New Light,’ which is largely based on the fact that we have all this wonderful new data that has come back during the past year from the Lunar Renaissance Orbiter as well as the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft and other spacecraft,” said Lora Bleacher the Informal Education Lead for the LRO mission.

“LRO is changing our understanding and our view of the Moon,” said Brian Day, the Education and Public Outreach Lead for NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer Mission (LADEE). “All the recent lunar news has raised the public’s consciousness of the Moon to a whole new degree. It’s exciting to see the heightened level of interest that the public has in the Moon now, and our understanding of the moon has changed radically over a short amount of time. So we are giving everyone the opportunity to conduct their own personal explorations of the lunar surface and in doing so learn about how our understanding of the Moon has changed.“

Amateur and professional astronomers will be sharing first hand views of the Moon with the public, for example, the Night Sky Network, which is a collaboration between NASA and the Astronomy Society of the Pacific and is an organization of some 300 amateur astronomy clubs across the US will be holding events. Other NASA centers, museums, and science centers are involved, and the event has also caught on internationally, lead by international partners of the NASA Lunar Science Institute, Astronomers Without Borders, and other groups.

“Not only will people be able to come to a location near them and look through a telescope, which I highly recommend,” said Day, “there will also be presentation by local lunar experts.”

To see if there is an event near you, visit the InOMN website. There are also star charts, Moon maps, and information on how you can host your own event.

You can also follow @observethemoon on Twitter to share your Moon-watching experiences in that venue.

Also, you can listen to a 365 Days of Astronomy/NLSI podcast I did about InOMN.

Moon Zoo is participating with an online challenge for the Zooites to classify 20,000 images between now and the end of September 19th (midnight BST). With everyone’s help they hope to add 440 square kilometers (275 square miles) of features that will be classified on the Moon, which is the size of the Dead Sea, or twice the size of Metropolitan Chicago. In total, Moon Zoo has already provided the lunar science community with information on the locations of craters, spacecraft, and geologic features such as rilles and boulder fields for more than 38,600 square kilometers (24,000 square miles) of lunar terrain. You can follow the progress on the “Moonometer.”

Event organizers are already looking towards the future and keeping the Moon momentum going. Next year’s theme will have a cultural focus to celebrate what the Moon means to people around the world.

“This is an annual event that will happen every year around the same time depending what phase of the Moon we’ll be in,” said Daou, “but also throughout the year we’ll be having bits and pieces of new regarding the Moon on our website, so don’t wait until the Fall to see what is new on our website!