Counting Craters on the Moon

  • Released Thursday, September 16th, 2010
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 1:54PM
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Some areas of the Moon have more craters than others. The number of large versus small craters also varies across the surface. A census of the crater population can tell scientists the relative ages of different parts of the surface and reveal information about the make-up of the early solar system.

Such a census has been compiled from the elevation data being sent back by the LOLA instrument on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. It comprises over 5000 craters larger than 20 kilometers in diameter. Some conclusions drawn from an analysis of this crater catalog by members of the LOLA team are described in the September 17, 2010 issue of the journal Science.

This animation illustrates the process of systematically counting craters. Craters larger than 20 kilometers in diameter light up to show color-coded elevation. Some areas, such as the maria and the Orientale basin, are notably sparse, implying that these areas are younger. The processes that formed them erased the record of older impacts visible elsewhere on the Moon.

Elevation key. Elevations are relative to a mean radius of 1737.4 kilometers.

Elevation key. Elevations are relative to a mean radius of 1737.4 kilometers.





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NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio


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Papers used in this visualization

Head, James W. et al. (2010). Global distribution of large lunar craters: Implications for resurfacing and impactor populations. Science, 329(5998)


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