The moon may be a mere sliver in the sky tonight, but there's still a way to enjoy this eerie illuminator of black cats, tombstones and unhappy children in ladybug costumes. Mark off a few minutes this Halloween to enjoy the below NASA video showing the moon in superb detail, using a vantage point that swings to and fro like an unshaded lightbulb jostled by something that just went bump in the night.
The dynamite animation employs elevation data and images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a space probe launched in 2009 packing loads of hi-tech instruments with Tim Burtonesque names, like the CRaTER (Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation) and the LAMP (Lyman-Alpha Mapping Project). Footage from Japan's Kaguya mission and coloring from NASA and the U.S. defense department's Clementine project also finds a way into the video, which is the work of the space agency's stellar Scientific Visualization Studio.
One of the notable geologic and human-made landmarks you'll see on this spectral tour is Mare Orientale, a lava-flooded basin stuck way out on the far-west edge of lunar body that is hard to see from earth. Orientale was formed when something huge smacked it about 3 billion years, rippling the crust around the point of impact like a bowling ball falling into wet cement. Ecce, scholars of classical language – according to NASA, "Though it may seem a little ironic to denizens of the space age who recognize the Moon as a dry and airless world, a dark, smooth lunar region is called a mare (plural maria), Latin for sea, because astronomers once thought such regions might actually be seas."
Other roadside attractions include the South Pole-Aitken Basin, a "megasmudge" that at about 7.5 miles deep and 1,550 miles wide ranks as one of the largest craters in the solar system. (Its dark color might be due to iron in the surrounding rock.) The fresh Tycho crater is seen ringed with a spray of ejecta thrown out when a space rock dinged the Moon perhaps 108 million years ago. The strange prominence in Tycho's center is probably material compressed by the asteroid blow that immediately rebounded back up. The impact that created Tycho imparted so much energy to the Moon that it liquefied the ground, possibly creating streams of molden glass.
Then there's the Aristarchus Plateau, an island-like structure floating in the barren Ocean of Storms where astronauts landed during 1969's Apollo 12 mission. The riverlike formation nearby is likely due to red-hot lava flowing in the Moon's early years. And don't miss the trashed moon buggy from Apollo 17 and the ever-creeping terminator, the great word that describes the line of shadow that separates lunar day from night. (Hi-res versions of the video below are available here.)