Lunar Swirls: Reiner Gamma

  • Released Monday, March 27, 2017

Lunar swirls are bright, often sinuous features with the diffuse appearance of abstract airbrush paintings. They are unique to the Moon and have long defied easy explanation. Five papers recently published in Icarus (1, 2, 3), JGR: Space Physics (4), and JGR: Planets (5) use a combination of computer modeling and the data gathered by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and other recent lunar missions to shed new light on the origin of these unusual surface decorations.

Reiner Gamma, a bright patch amid the otherwise dark Oceanus Procellarum mare, is perhaps the most spectacular example of a lunar swirl. Through backyard telescopes near full Moon, it looks like a small figure-8 on its side. LRO's view from orbit reveals tendrils and daughter swirls that extend for several hundred kilometers.

The animation zooms up on an LRO wide-angle camera mosaic of Reiner Gamma, then tilts the view to show that this large swirl is entirely two-dimensional — it's not a mountain range or a valley, but instead looks painted onto the surface. The narrated videos are available in both English and Spanish.

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Release date

This page was originally published on Monday, March 27, 2017.
This page was last updated on Wednesday, November 15, 2023 at 12:09 AM EST.


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Papers used in this visualization

Brent W. Denevi et al., The distribution and extent of lunar swirls, Icarus 273:15 (July 2016), pp. 53-67

Datasets used in this visualization

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