One giant leap for Google Moon

Much has already been written about Google’s announcement, last week, of a $30 million prize for the first privately-funded space mission to land a robot probe on the Moon.

An Elevation view in Google MoonIt took a bit of the gloss off a potentially seismic shift in the UK’s attitude to space exploration – an official working group recommended the same day that Britain form its own astronaut corps.

Google took the biggest headlines but I must confess that my first thoughts were: I hope they’re not going to rely on Google Moon to plan the landings. I recalled the somewhat crude early implementation of Google Maps which produced a cheesy joke if you zoomed in to try to view any detail.

I was being unfair. I decided to take a fresh look at Google Moon and the new collaboration announced between Google and Nasa in December is clearly already bearing fruit.

For most of the our natural satellite you can now close in to view detail just a few miles across, thanks to imagery from the unmanned Clementine craft that orbited the Moon in the Nineties. The areas where the Apollo lunar modules landed are imaged in even greater detail and you can virtually land yourself between tiny craterlets.

But there is more. In a parallel to the street-mapping layer of Google Maps, the lunar model provides geologic and topographic charts produced since Nasa began planning for their own missions to the Moon. They seem a little clunky in the way they operate at present but no doubt the experience will become more streamlined as work develops.

You can’t yet use the program Google Earth to view the Moon in the same way you can now pan the heavens with Google Sky, but intriguingly the Google team say they are working on that!

The image is from a screen grab of Google Moon in elevation mode.

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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