How NASA LRO captures the Moon in 3D

Put on your 3D glasses. 😎️

Seen below is a 3D image of the Hell Q crater, made using data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).

The geologically young, 3.4 km wide Hell Q crater in gorgeous 3D. Credit: NASA LRO
To see the crater depth in the image, use any of the commercially available Red/Blue 3D glasses online or in physical stores.

NASA launched LRO in 2009 to produce the highest resolution Moon maps, including images, topography, temperatures, etc. Its extensive dataset has helped plan nearly all modern-day Moon landing missions and will help future ones too, like those part of NASA’s Artemis human landing program. LRO has another trick up its sleeve – producing 3D images of features on the Moon using a single camera.

As the LRO spacecraft passes above a feature of interest in its polar orbit, it tilts itself by a certain degree as per pre-sent commands by missions operators, and then snaps an image. As the same feature comes into view about two hours later in the next orbit, LRO is made to tilt again, this time in the opposite direction to get another image. These two images are then processed here on Earth to make 3D ones just like it is done for 3D movies.

Two images of the same feature being captured by NASA LRO at varying angles in two consecutive orbits so to create a 3D image. Credit: NASA LRO

With this method, NASA LRO mission designers took advantage of the fact that the Moon rotates slowly about itself, once every 27 days. A spacecraft in a similar orbit around the much faster rotating Earth would have to wait quite a while for the same feature of interest to be in view again.

NASA has made thousands of LRO’s 3D images available as part of LRO’s data products downloads. I’ve browsed through some of those and found some really cool and intriguing ones, so I cleaned them up for public consumption.

And last but not the least, here’s the entire Moon in glorious 3D. It even rotates slightly as you shift perspective! <3

The Moon in 3D. Credit: NASA LRO

You can download the 3D Moon images here.


I’ve made a video out of the 3D images hoping to spark excitement among people about the Moon being a beautiful place.

Watch the Moon in 3D!

Did you know?

The excellent NASA LRO Outreach team provides printable 3D models of famous features on the Moon, including Apollo landing sites! Time to call that one friend of yours who owns a 3D printer! 😉

If you liked what you saw, learn why exploring the Moon is important and more such stories on this blog, or check out my ‘satellite’ (side) project dedicated to scientifically interesting places on the Moon called Moon Monday.

Ad Luna. 🚀

 Article published under the freedom-respecting Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0, minus any media file(s) credited independently.

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