One year of the moon in 2.5 minutes
This computer simulation video, from the Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio, uses data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to visualize how the Moon will look to us on Earth during the entire year of 2011. It compresses one month into 12 seconds and one year into 2.5 minutes.
While the moon always keeps the same face to us, it’s not exactly the same face. Because of the tilt in its axis and shape of its orbit, we see the moon from slightly different angles over the course of a month, and the year. Normally, we don’t see how the moon “wobbles” in its orbit, but seeing the moon’s year this quickly, we can see the changes in libration and axis tilt — as well as the most noticeable changes, the moon’s phases.
The video – the most accurate to date – shows shadows and other features on the moon in incredible detail. This is thanks to the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). The LOLA has already taken more than 10 times as many elevation measurements as all previous missions combined. These made a global elevation map possible, and that is how the shadows came into play.