Sideways Looks at the Moon Like You’ve Never Seen it Before

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The Zooites working at the Moon Zoo citizen science project have uncovered some very unique oblique views of the Moon taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Occasionally, LRO takes “sideways glances” at the Moon instead of looking straight down like the spacecraft normally does. The Moon doesn’t really look like this close up, because these images aren’t scaled correctly (the width and height pixel scales are different by five times, the Zooites say in the Moon Zoo Forum), but they provide a distinctive look at the lunar surface, and things like craters on the side of a hill, — or perhaps an entrance to a cave — show up better than in normal images. Have fun looking at some more of these images below, or on the Moon Zoo Forum.

And don’t forget, if you aren’t working on at least one of the Zooniverse citizen science projects, you are missing out on mountains of fun!

Another oblique look at the Moon from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: Moon Zoo, NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
LRO image M144564740RC. Credit: Moon Zoo, NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.
LRO image M144653115RC. Credit: Moon Zoo, NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.

Tumbling Boulders Leave Trails on the Moon

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There’s probably a great story in this image, if only someone was there to witness it as it happened! This is an image from Moon Zoo, the citizen science project from the Zooniverse that asks people to look at images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and search for craters, boulders and more. And often, the Zooites find some very interesting features on the Moon, like this one and the ones below that include tracks from rolling, bounding, tumbling and sometimes bouncing boulders. Then the task for the scientists is to figure out what actually happened to get these boulders moving — was it an impact, are the boulder on the bottom of a hill, or was it some other unknown catalyst? As Zooniverse founder Chris Lintott says, “The Moon has its own landscape that is really quite dramatic, so it’s a world well worth exploring.”

LRO image from Moon Zoo.

Why look for tumbling boulders? Moon Zoo scientist Dr. Katie Joy gave this explanation:

“One of the main reasons we are asking Moon Zoo users to search for scars left behind by tumbling boulders is to help support future lunar exploration initiatives. Boulders that have rolled down hillsides from crater walls, or massifs like the Apollo 17 landing site, provide samples of geologic units that may be high up a hillside and thus difficult to access otherwise by a rover or a manned crew vehicle. If mission planning can include traverses to boulders that have rolled down hills, and we can track these boulders back up to the part of hillside from where they have originated, it provides a neat sampling strategy to accessing more geological units than would have been possible otherwise… Thus we hope to use Moon Zoo user data to produce a map of known boulder tracks (and terminal boulders) across the Moon.”

LRO image from Moon Zoo of boulder tracks.

See more unique boulder tracks images in the Moon Zoo forum thread on boulders.

If you want to join in on the fun of looking for mysteries on the Moon, check out Moon Zoo, or the Zooniverse for more citizen science projects where you can get involved in helping scientists do real science.

Citizen Science Goes to the Moon

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Have you ever wanted to explore the Moon? Well, now you can as a virtual astronaut, and you can help lunar scientists answer important questions, as well. New from the Zooniverse — from the same folks that brought you Galaxy Zoo — is Moon Zoo. “We’re asking citizen scientists to help answer different aspects of lunar science and outstanding questions that we still have,” said Dr. Katherine Joy from the Lunar and Planetary Institute and a Moon Zoo science team member.

Moon Zoo uses about 70,000 high resolution images gathered by the NASA’s newest lunar spacecraft. the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. In these images are details as small as 50 centimeters (20 inches) across, and ‘Zooites’ are will be asked to catergorize craters, boulders and more, including lava channels and even all sorts of different spacecraft sitting on the Moon’s surface.

How fun is this latest Zoo project?

“Actually, I have to say after a few days of playing with it I find it much more addictive than the others,” said Chris Lintott, head “zookeeper” of the Zooniverse and chair of the Citizen Science Alliance. “Galaxy Zoo was bad enough but I’m obsessed with the Moon now. I can’t quite believe the variety of the places we’re seeing. People think the Moon is this boring place – they say, ‘we know what it looks like, it’s just grey and flat, right?’ But actually it has its own landscape that is really quite dramatic, especially when the sun is low, so it’s a world well worth exploring.”

Want to join in? Go to the Moon Zoo website, and if you’ve participated any of the previous Galaxy Zoo or Solar Storm Watch projects, you can use the same username and password. If not, it’s easy to sign up.

Under the “How to Take Part” tab you’ll find a tutorial that will teach you how to participate in Moon Zoo.

The two main biggest tasks right now are the Crater Survey, where you can mark all the craters (down to a certain size), and Boulder Wars, where you are shown two images and you determine which has the most boulders.

But Dr. Joy said there will soon be some additional tasks, created from a wish list from lunar scientists. “One of the main tasks we really want to do is to compare these new LRO images to older Apollo panoramic camera images that were taken 40 years ago,” she said. “And what we can do is match these older images against the new images with similar lighting conditions and similar angles at which the camera was pointed at the surface and what we might be able to do is to spot differences that have occurred between 40 years ago and now, which could be in the form of say, new impact craters that have formed from incoming bolides. We might be able to spot new debris flows and landslides that have happened in the past 40 years. This can provide us information about the really recent history of the Moon.”

Questions? There’s a FAQ section and a discussion forum where you can pose queries or discuss any issues or interesting finds with other Zooites.

“We’re hoping to reach out to people that have never really looked at the Moon before in any kind of detail and get them excited about all the secrets the Moon still has,” said Dr. Joy “because there are plenty of new things that people have never looked at before.”

Listen to the May 19, 2010 edition of the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast for an interview with Katie Joy and Chris Lintott.