NASA has released images rendering an accurate 3D visualization of the moon‘s surface to the public. the animation, called the ‘CGI moon kit’, is composed of data from NASA’s lunar reconnaissance orbiter (LRO), which has been circling the moon capturing topographical data for 10 years.


NASA’s science visualizer, ernie wright, had the job of interpreting these images, combining the LRO’s raw data and images to construct an accurate 3D map of the moon. the agency released it online to make data more accessible to 3D artists, according to a statement from NASA. other artists and designers will also be able to use this media for whatever they want, whether that’s video games or other forms of art.

NASA releases 3D map of the moon for CG artists and creators

images courtest of NASA’s scientific visualization studio



‘[the moon kit] will bring the LRO data within reach of lots of other artists who want to do the kinds of things that I do,’ said wright in a statement released by NASA. 


to create the map, wright used 3d animation software and NASA’s lunar reconnaissance orbiter, a spacecraft that has been in orbit around the moon for more than a decade. it was originally intended to be a resource for NASA’s scientific visualization studio but after receiving several requests, he decided to make it available to the public, allowing others to connect with the LRO mission.

NASA releases 3D map of the moon for CG artists and creators



the orbiter is equipped with a camera that acts as a scanner, building an image line-by-line. it also has laser altimeter (called the lunar orbiter laser altimeter, or LOLA), which uses laser pulses to detect the dimensions of the moon, according to the statement.


‘a single laser pulse is sent down and divided into five separate beams. the pulses reach the moon’s surface and bounces back to the spacecraft,’ according to the statement. ‘LOLA then measures the nanoseconds it takes for the beam to return as a means of reading the moon’s topography.’

NASA releases 3D map of the moon for CG artists and creators



‘using 3D animation software is a lot like filming live-action, with lights, cameras, props and sets,’ wright explains. ‘but visualization is more like filming a documentary. you’re being factual, but you’re also creating a narrative.’


‘we’re putting the pictures back into context. we’re putting them back where they came from.’


the moon kit is free to download and contains various sorts of data and images, such as a ‘displacement map,’ which visualizes topography through color. artists will be able to use this data to recreate an accurate surface of the moon, complete with its real-life craters, plateaus, and peaks.