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Mankind Gets First Look at the Dark Side of the Moon

Mar 23, 2013 11:37 AM EDT

The dark side of the Moon has long intrigued scientists, and not the shadow cast by the ever-changing alignment of the Earth, Sun and Moon. Rather, they're fascinated by the extreme poles of the Moon's surface that, due to its nearly perfectly perpendicular orbit in relation to the Sun, feature craters that haven't seen light in an estimated 2 billion years.

Such craters, for example, would be ripe for trapped volatiles like water.

Launched in June 2009 and costing $504 million, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has been hard at work taking images of the Moon's surface, which NASA is now piecing together into stunning 3D images.

While the LRO lacks a stereo camera, scientists at NASA are creating anaglyph imaging by putting together images the spacecraft takes using lasers.

Sarah Mattson is a scientist with the University of Arizona and Arizona State University team that invented the new moon photo technique.

"The visualization is extremely helpful to scientists in understanding the sequence and structures on the surface of the Moon in a qualitative way," she writes in a statement featured on

Anaglyph - a terms that comes from Greek meaning to carve in low relief - assembles a 3D image using either moving or still images of a slightly different perspective of the same object. Contrasting colors are then superimposed on each other that, when looked through with two correspondingly colored filters, form a 3D image.

It's so effective, as stated in a video produced by NASA, that it's "as if we had a giant flashlight."

What's more, LRO carries with it a LAMP instrument that can measure the light that does reach this part of the Moon - starlight. It also contains an instrument that measures the Moon's surface temperatures and another that can measure the speed of neutrons and in turn detect elements such as hydrogen in the lunar soil.

Together, these techniques are painting a picture of a part of the moon that humans have never before understood.

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