Sometimes, when we see an old friend in a new light, we barely recognize her. And certainly, the moon's face, at least its near side, is one we've gazed on countless times. But a new map from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), NASA and the Lunar Planetary Institute has revealed our steady companion in a spectacular new light.
In fact, based on 50 years of data, it's the most detailed rendering of the moon yet. And it's almost unrecognizable. That's because the pale, stern face with that 220,000-mile stare is gone. Only to be replaced by what looks like a rainbow-speckled doughnut.
Of course, the moon doesn't really look quite so saccharine. Those bright hues are used to denote its myriad nooks and crannies, along with the ages of every rock and the elements comprising them. It all comes together in striking detail in what scientists dub the Unified Geologic Map of the Moon.
"This map is a culmination of a decades-long project," Corey Fortezzo, geologist and lead author on the project, notes in a statement. "It provides vital information for new scientific studies by connecting the exploration of specific sites on the moon with the rest of the lunar surface."
And the map is more than just a pretty face. Marshaling data from as far back as the 1960s Apollo mission all the way to modern-day satellite snapshots, it may also function as a road map of sorts.
Boasting a 1:5,000,000 scale — meaning a millimeter on the map equals five kilometers on the moon — the image is described as the "definitive blueprint" of the satellite's surface. It's a blueprint, its creators say, that could prove vital for future explorers from Earth.
"People have always been fascinated by the moon and when we might return," USGS director and former NASA astronaut Jim Reilly explains in the release. "So, it's wonderful to see USGS create a resource that can help NASA with their planning for future missions."
In a way, the image is everything we've learned about the moon, spanning decades of exploration and satellite surveillance, crammed into one eye-popping image. Well, make that two. The Unified Geologic Map of the Moon not only charts the moon's near face, but also the side we never glimpse from Earth.
And even that famously craggy far side looks, dare we say, cheerful? Eye candy indeed.
For more details about the map, or to download it directly, visit the Unified Geologic Map of the Moon website.