NASA has just launched a useful and beautiful new set of data only for creators that include not just imagery; however, depth information, making it simple to build an incredibly detailed 3D map of the Moon.
The CGI Moon Kit comes from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, where science visualization expert Ernie Wright discovered that data he had assembled for other purposes was proving popular with 3D artists.
The information came from two instruments on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a spacecraft that has been in orbit across the Moon for more than a decade, snapping Images and taking measurements the entire time.
Onboard the LRO is a high-quality “traditional” camera (really a sophisticated multispectral imager), which it has been utilizing to build an amazingly high-quality map of the lunar surface. It could only capture a small portion at a time; however, it does so continuously, and as its orbit has shifted, it has captured pretty much the whole visible area of the Moon, although some shadowy regions can’t be imaged even after passing over them thousands of times.
The laser altimeter works like any typical orbital laser ranger you’ve around the house. It sends a pulsed laser towards the surface and tracks each how long it takes to return and how strong it’s. These inform the device how far away the surface is (and therefore its altitude) down to half a meter, and what that surface is like, for instance, a hard rocky structure or soft powdered regolith.
That information is assembled into what’s known as a displacement map, type of like a topographic map where instead of the height truly changing, the color does. There is a pair variety of this map; however, the primary use case is similar: You overlay the displacement map on the photographic map, then wrap it throughout a sphere, and you’ve got a virtual topographic globe.