NASA has just released a fantastic set of data for creators that contains not only imagery but also depth data, making it easy to create an accurately detailed 3D map of the Moon.
The CGI Moon Kit is manufactured by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, where science visualization specialist Ernie Wright discovered that data he had designed for other purposes was becoming popular with 3D artists.
LRO’s Data Is Most Useful
The released data came from two instruments aboard of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, a probe that has been orbiting the Moon for over a decade, capturing images and taking measurements.
Attached to the LRO is a high-quality ‘regular’ camera, which is, in fact, an intricate multispectral imager. The instrument has been used to create a high-quality map of the lunar surface; it can only snap a small area at a time, but it does so continually. As its orbit has changed, it has mainly captured the entire visible portion of the Moon, although some dim regions can not be imaged even after flying by them thousand of times.
Create A Virtual Topographic Globe
The probe has also used its laser altimeter to collect information on the topology of the Moon’s surface. The laser altimeter sends a pulsed laser towards the surface and measures the time it takes to come back and how powerful it is. This information tells the device the distance between it and the surface, and therefore its altitude, down to half a meter. It also reports what the surface is like, for instance, a hard rough structure, or a soft pulverized regolith.
This information is then collected into a ‘displacement map,’ a type of topographic map where, rather than the height changing, the color does. There are a few variations of this map, but the essential way to use it is the same: you overlap the displacement map on the photographic map, then enclose it around the sphere. You have then got a virtual topographic globe.
The CGI Moon Kit is free to download. More information is available here.