Geeky Astronomy, I Spy With My Little Eye

Aristarchus Crater Panorama

Aristarchus Crater West Wall

Good morning, everyone.

Today I’m going to share some excellent astronomical porn with you all, so please try to contain your excitement.

On November 10, 2011, The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) made a low-altitude pass 42 miles to the east of Aristarchus crater, one of the brightest features on the Moon, and took an amazing panoramic image of the western wall of the crater. The LRO was flying at just over 16 miles above the lunar surface at the time, so the image has incredible detail.

Aristarchus crater is a young impact crater, formed around 450 million years ago, which is just yesterday if you consider the average age of  the other craters on the moon, most of which were formed around 4 billion years ago during the Late Heavy Bombardment. Aristarchus crater is located at the southeast corner of the Aristarchus Plateau, and it’s big; 40 km wide and 3.5 km deep (that’s 24 miles wide and 2.1 miles deep). Here’s a picture that shows its location on the Moon:

The Moon showing location of Aristarchus. Click to enlarge.

This is an overhead picture or Aristarchus, the white arrows indicating the approximate corners of the panorama:

The white arrows indicate the corners of the panorama. Click the image to enlarge.

And here is a small image of the panorama. The image spans about 25 km (15 miles):

Thumbnail of Aristarchus panorama

This next bit is pretty cool. This is a video flyover of the full-resolution west wall of Aristarchus crater. Make sure that you watch in full-screen:


And finally, here is a full-resolution image of the panorama in a special zoom viewer, where you can get really close in. Supposedly, you can see objects as small as 15 inches across. You can waste hours on this thing.

Isn’t that an incredible image? The wall looks a lot like an open-pit mine with all of the ledges and terraces. Those are all a result of the un-obliterated surface material slumping down around the edges after the impact. A lot of detail is visible, and I imagine that a geologist would go nuts in a place like that, so to speak. The rest of us just look at it in wonder.


The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera website


  • Without a sense of scale, the zoomed view of the panorama didn't look all that odd until I spotted a small impact crater with its own well-preserved ejecta on the wall itself. Not something I'm used to seeing in the field around here. Rather jarring, in fact.

    • The Professor

      I was hoping that you would find the image interesting. What always strikes me, when I look at Moon craters, is the sense of frozen time.

      • That, too. Just eyeballing such a fresh-looking surface on Earth would have me thinking in terms of at most thousands to perhaps tens of thousands of years since it was initially exposed. To think that this one has pretty much just been sitting there undisturbed for around half a billion years, and that this places it among the younger (!) craters, is just not normal for these parts. It's easy enough to say at a distance but viscerally not the same when faced with detailed vistas and individual features.

        As the Moon, Mars, and other bodies continue to become less purely astronomical objects and more concretely geological locations, I expect such shake-ups to become more common. Good.

        • texlenin

          Mr Harrell, I have a completely unrelated
          question for you, when you get a minute.

          • Sure, but you're lucky I saw this while it was one of the "last comments" in the sidebar, as I don't receive notification when someone responds to my posts. What's up?

            Also, please call me Mike.

          • The Professor

            So you're not getting comment emails from IntenseDebate anymore either? At least it's not just me, I was starting to feel put upon.

          • I never have. It never worked for me, so I unchecked that box in my profile.

          • The Professor

            Really? How inconvenient. Well, you might try it again, as they recently did an update, then fixed the damage that the update did. Who knows, it might work.

          • texlenin

            Well, crap. I wasn't expecting ya'll to be up that
            late on a Fri night, or I would have written right
            What I was looking for was a lead on drawings
            /diagrams of the Saab 900/9000 hood hinges
            and how they mount. I am considering trying to
            use them in a custom application on my Datsun.
            To confirm, these are the ones that pop up in
            front, then pull forward, then tilt the back of the
            hood up in front of the car. I get that right?

          • The 900, yes, and I'm pretty sure the 99, too, but I think the 9000 is instead conventional. To be honest, though, I'm really not all that familiar with anything newer than the 96, which also has the up-forward-tilt style of hood. You'll need more than just the hinges to make it work right, as there are also some guide rails on the body into which a small pair of rollers at the rear corners of the hood fit.

            Come to think of it, I should specify that it's the later, longnose 95 and 96 that share the style of hinge you want. The earlier bullnose 95/96 (and 92 and 93) have simple forward-tilting hoods instead.

          • texlenin

            After seeing a clip of it awhile back, I thought
            that it would be something along those lines.
            I was thinking of pages from a FSM or a body
            shop manual, that sort of thing.
            I've done some googling, but never found
            anything near to what I'm looking for. And
            since you're the only Saab (albeit early)
            fan I know, I thought you might set me in
            the right direction via networking.

          • The Professor

            He also likes to be called 'Snookums', but you didn't hear it from me.

          • texlenin

            LOL. Boy, you love to stir that pot,

  • aastrovan

    Incredible resolution and detail.

  • texlenin

    So, that's where I parked my car that night…..
    What a colony site that would make! Use
    the silica to make glass panels (with that
    free raw sunlight) and double-dome that
    mutha over. Terrace the hell out of the walls,
    and put all the golf courses at the bottom.
    Think of the rent we could charge!