Moon Struck

  • Released Thursday, March 15th, 2012
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 1:53PM

Long before the first humans gazed up into the velvety blackness of the night sky, the moon was young and fresh-faced. These were the early days, before the patchwork of inky stains called the Man in the Moon, before the brilliant starburst patterns called ray craters decorated the surface, before a colossal crash turned one-fifth of its real estate into the South Pole-Aitken basin. Fast-forward to the present, and the moon's once smooth contour appears flawed and disfigured, punished by explosive volcanic eruptions and raining interstellar objects that bombarded its surface over eons. In the visualizations below, see some of the clearest views of the moon yet, courtesy of NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and witness a recreation of the destructive, 4.5-billion-year evolution of Earth's natural satellite.

Fields of dark rock left by volcanic eruptions, mistaken for huge seas, were named "maria." Some of them make up the Man in the Moon's face.

Fields of dark rock left by volcanic eruptions, mistaken for huge seas, were named "maria." Some of them make up the Man in the Moon's face.

As large moon craters go, the giant bull's-eye called Orientale basin is thought to be young, likely the moon's last major body blow.

As large moon craters go, the giant bull's-eye called Orientale basin is thought to be young, likely the moon's last major body blow.

The sun beats endlessly on the peaks of the south pole's Shackleton crater, but its cold depths may not have seen light for 2 billion years.

The sun beats endlessly on the peaks of the south pole's Shackleton crater, but its cold depths may not have seen light for 2 billion years.

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Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center