Lunar Swirls: Reiner Gamma

  • Released Monday, March 27th, 2017
  • Updated Friday, August 25th, 2023 at 12:07AM
  • ID: 4468

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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NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio


This visualization is based on the following papers:


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Datasets used in this visualization

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter LROC WAC Global Morphological Map (A.K.A. Global Morphological Map) (Collected with the Wide-Angle Camera sensor)
LRO WAC 643nm High Sun Global Mosaic (Collected with the LROC sensor)

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