About Moon Zoo
The Moon is perhaps the most familiar object in the night sky, but it still has its mysteries. Following the excitement of the Apollo Moon landings in the 1960s and 1970s, a new flotilla of spacecraft is exploring the Earth’s nearest neighbour. The images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter which you’re invited to explore with Moon Zoo show the lunar surface in remarkable detail, including features as small as 50 cm (about one and a half feet) across.
LRO is a remarkable spacecraft, the product of years of hard work by an enormous team of scientists and engineers who made the mission possible. It carries, amongst other instruments, an incredible camera, LROC. LROC is actually three cameras — two Narrow Angle Cameras which supply Moon Zoo images, and a Wide Angle Camera. Data from the first six months of the mission have been released by the LROC team through the Planetary Data System (PDS), and much more is coming…
What do we want to know?
The aim of Moon Zoo is to provide detailed crater counts for as much as the Moon’s surface as possible. Unlike here on Earth where weather quickly erodes any signs of all but the most recent impacts, craters on the lunar surface stay almost until eternity. That means that the number of craters on a particular piece of the surface tells us how old it is. This technique is used all over the Solar System, but the Moon is particularly important because we have ground truth — samples brought back by the Apollo missions — which allow us to calibrate our estimates. Planetary scientists have always carried out this kind of analysis on large scales, but with your help and the fabulous LRO images then we should be able to uncover the finer details of the Moon’s history.
Craters can tell us more than just the history of the lunar surface though. In particular, you’re asked in Moon Zoo to look for craters with boulders around the rim. Boulders are a sign that the impact was powerful enough that it excavated rock from beneath the regolith (the lunar ‘soil’) and so by keeping an eye out for these we can begin to map the depth of the regolith across the surface of the Moon.
Of course, in exploring the lunar surface who knows what else you might find. We very much hope that Moon Zoo will lead to the discovery of many unusual features — so please dive in and enjoy a view of the Moon that even Apollo astronauts would enjoy.