Raw images and data of the moon, mars and other galactic objects have been available at the NASA website for years, but for the first time, an accurate 3D rendering of earth's lone satellite called the CG Moon Kit is available for mass people, which makes the data more accessible.
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has been circling the moon for 10 years, snapping pictures and obtaining topographical data in the process. These data and images are available online but requires a trained eye to decipher it. Interactive tools like the CG Moon Kit would allow people to engage in a more meaningful way without feeling inundated, stated NASA.
"All of this data is publicly available but not as accessible as it could be. In releasing this in a form that a lot of people can appreciate and use," said creator Ernie Wright, science visualizer works at the Scientific Visualization Studio at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in a statement. "Because of this, the importance of connecting this science with art and imagery is crucial for the mission to achieve its full potential."
NASA plans to use this data to help inform future moon landings and other projects. The maps will be used to help prepare safe landings for the future Artemis program, a commitment made by the space agency to land American astronauts, including the first woman and the next man, on the moon by 2024.
However, this map has other uses. Artists and designers will be able to use this media for, well, whatever they want, whether that's video games or other forms of art.
The moon kit is free to download. It contains all sorts of data and images, such as a "displacement map," which visualizes topography through color. With all the available data, artists will be able to re-create an accurate surface of the moon, complete with its real-life craters, plateaus, and peaks.
LRO has been efficient in mapping out the moon "like never before," claims Wright. Two gadgets on the LRO have been vital in bringing this project to life: The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) and the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA).
LROC works like a scanned to create images line by line. As the spacecraft moves over the lunar surface, it builds and image.
LOLA, on the other hand, uses laser pulses to detect the dimensions of the moon. A single laser pulse is sent down and divided into five separate beams. The pulses reach the Moon's surface and bounces back to the spacecraft. LOLA then measures the nanoseconds it takes for the beam to return as a means of reading the Moon's topography. If a beam comes back quickly, LOLA can tell that the landscape has a high elevation. If the beam comes back weaker, the surface is rough and power from the beam was scattered. These images are then sent back to Earth for analyzers like Wright to process. Processing is actually the hard part. Wright's work requires considering the lighting, location, and the big picture in order to bring everything together.
"Using 3D animation software is a lot like filming live-action, with lights, cameras, props, and sets," said Wright, "but visualization is more like filming a documentary. You're being factual, but you're also creating a narrative."