New Web Site Allows Virtual Moonwalks
A screenshot from the Crater Survey interface that lets explorers catalog craters and their shapes.
CREDIT: Moon Zoo
More than 37 years after humans last walked on the moon, planetary scientists are inviting members of the public to return to the lunar surface as "virtual astronauts" to help answer important scientific questions.
No spacesuit or rocket ship is required – all visitors need to do is go to the Moon Zoo Web site and be among the first to see the moon's surface in unprecedented detail courtesy of new high-resolution images taken by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
While on a virtual moonwalk , volunteers are asked to identify craters, boulders, cracks in the lunar surface, sinuous channels where lava might have flowed and more. Visitors might stumble across hardware from spacecraft left on the moon and unusual phenomena such as caves and holes.
"We need Web users around the world to help us interpret these stunning new images of the lunar surface," said Chris Lintott of Oxford University in the UK and chair of the Citizen Science Alliance that developed Moon Zoo.
"If you only spend five minutes on the site counting craters you'll be making a valuable contribution to science and, who knows, you might run across a Russian spacecraft," Lintott said.
Scientists are particularly interested in knowing how many craters appear in a particular region of the moon in order to determine the age and depth of the lunar surface. Fresh craters left by recent impacts provide clues about the potential risks from meteor strikes on the moon and on Earth.
"We hope to address key questions about the impact bombardment history of the moon and discover sites of geological interest that have never been seen before," said Katherine Joy of the Lunar and Planetary Institute and a Moon Zoo science team member.
A moonlit stroll
Virtual moonwalkers should have plenty of science and splendor to occupy them on their lunar constitutional.
Many different kinds of craters exist on the moon, ranging from eroded, smooth dimples to geologically recent white-colored craters. Boulders can appear in any number of shapes and sizes and can leave "tracks" on the surface that look like ditches as they shift positions due to meteorite impacts or other natural processes.
A pre-stroll tutorial trains citizen scientists to know what to look for while on their jaunt.
As the Moon Zoo Web site said, "We would like you to spot anything you think might be a 'scientifically interesting' feature. However, we don't want you to go crazy spotting lots of things that are very common on the Moon."
As for uncommon things, explorers may find those too, because the "camera images that Moon Zoo uses are of such high resolution that you may be able to even spot astronaut's footprints that were left forty years ago!"