Planets and Moons  ID: 4468

Lunar Swirls: Reiner Gamma

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.

Used Elsewhere In


For More Information

NASA Research Gives New Insights into How the Moon Got 'Inked'

Visualization Credits

Ernie Wright (USRA):
Lead Visualizer

Laurence Schuler (ADNET):
Technical Support

Ian Jones (ADNET):
Technical Support

Noah Petro (NASA/GSFC):

John Keller (NASA/GSFC):

David Ladd (USRA):

Nayi Castro (KBRwyle):
Narrator (Spanish)

Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

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

Short URL to share this page:

LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter)

Data Used:
LRO/LROC/WAC 643nm High Sun Global Mosaic
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter/Wide-Angle Camera/Global Morphological Map also referred to as: LROC WAC Global Morphological Map
Note: While we identify the data sets used in these visualizations, we do not store any further details nor the data sets themselves on our site.

This item is part of these series:
The Moon
LRO - Animations

SVS >> Albedo
SVS >> Lunar
SVS >> Moon
SVS >> Hyperwall
SVS >> Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
SVS >> Spanish
SVS >> Lunar Surface
SVS >> Lunar Topography
NASA Science >> Planets and Moons