January 17, 2020

Review: The Kaguya Lunar Atlas.

On Sale Now from Springer Books!

You’ve never seen the Moon like this before… On September 14th, 2007, SELENE, or the SELenological and ENgineering Explorer rocketed out of JAXA’s Tanegashima Space Center on her way to the Moon. Carrying an array of spectrographs and instruments, the probe, more familiarly known as Kaguya after the mythical Japanese Moon princess, also sported a pair of tiny relay satellites plus two each 2.2 megapixel High Def cameras, one for zoom-ins and one for wide angle work. Kaguya spent 3 plus years in orbit about 100 kilometers over the lunar surface before achieving a controlled crash on June 10th, 2009 just beyond the terminator of the Moon. Kaguya provided mapping of the Moon’s gravitational field as well as pinpoint laser altimeter modelling and evidence of collapsed lava tubes that could be one day used for astronaut habitats. But some of the truly stark beauty of the Moon is captured by the HD imagery assembled in Charles Wood & Motomaro Shirao’s new book.

Earth as seen from Kaguya in lunar orbit. (Credit: JAXA/NHK).

Fans of Sky & Telescope will know that Mr. Wood is both an avid observer and fan of the Moon from his monthly Exploring the Moon column and Lunar Photo of the Day fame. Out from Springer Books, the atlas is laid out in wide a coffee table format that really captures the haunting beauty of the Moon. I wish every successful space mission included such an accessible volume; after a brief explanation of the mission and the instrumentation, the atlas is broken down into nearside and farside surveys of some of the Moon’s most fascinating features.

But this isn’t your parents Moon of the Apollo era; the Kaguya imagery is simply stunning, like you’re slowly gliding over those craters and scarps below in a Pan-Am flight straight out of 2001.

The central peak of Tycho Crater as seen from Kaguya. (Credit: JAXA/SELENE).

Kaguya, along with NASA’s LRO, also contributed largely to another secret addiction of every arm chair lunar observer; that of the addition of Google Moon to the hugely successful Google Earth. As many a lunar observer knows, few atlases or surface simulation programs depict the Moon as it REALLY appears to observers form night to night through the telescope. I’ve already found the Kaguya Lunar Atlas to be a indispensable resource for quick identification of craters as well as a good a “common sense” check as to what I’m seeing at the eyepiece. The Atlas has also pointed my eyes towards some observational targets of interest that I’d yet to hear of…for example, ever spotted the “ghost craters” of the Mare Fecuditatis or the Tranquility Base craters named after the Apollo 11 astronauts?  The Kaguya Lunar Atlas will send you hunting for these fascinating targets and more. Each image is expertly referenced against a Full Moon map for both nearside and farside panels, a system that other lunar atlases often sadly lack.

In closing, I would whole-heartedly recommend the Kaguya Lunar Atlas to anyone who is an avid moon watcher, space fan, or would love to see the surface of an alien world as it truly looks, up close and personal. The Kaguya mission also set a high standard for future space exploration; what’s needed now is to get some High Def cameras on the surface of the Moon and other worlds in our solar system!

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