Watch the Moon in 3D

And how NASA's Moon orbiter pulls it off with a single camera.

Put on your 3D glasses to see our Moon up-close in glorious depth.

The Moon in 3D. To see it pop out, use any of the commercially available Red/Blue 3D glasses online or in physical stores. Credit: NASA LRO

This stereographic 3D image of the Moon was made from images captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). NASA has made thousands of stereo images available as part of LRO’s data release. Browsing through a bunch of them, I found some intriguing Moon features that look surreal in 3D. So I cleaned them up for public consumption and made a video out of them, touring different places on the Moon.

Here are two sample images from the video.

Gorgeous 3D image of the geologically young, 3.4 kilometers wide Hell Q crater on the Moon. Credit: NASA LRO
A view of a section of the largest valley on the Moon, Vallis Schröteri. The 3D image allows you to get a feel of the 500 meters depth of the valley. Credit: NASA LRO

How does NASA LRO capture 3D images?

LRO pulls off the feat using a single camera. As it passes above a feature of interest, it tilts itself by a certain degree and snaps an image as per pre-sent commands by missions operators on Earth. 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 stereographic images just like we do for 3D movies.

Two images of the same feature being captured by NASA’s LRO spacecraft at different angles in consecutive orbits to create a 3D image. Credit: NASA

With this method, 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 Earth or Mars, both of which rotate much faster, would have to wait quite a while for a feature of interest to be in view again.

  • If you liked these Moon views, check out Luna Sights, my project to showcase pretty places on the Moon. Enjoy a world of craters, mountains, lava channels, and more!
  • NASA LRO’s excellent Outreach team provides printable 3D models of famous Moon features, including Apollo landing sites. Time to call that friend of yours with a 3D printer.

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