Bill DunfordOct 10, 2016

New Gems from the Moon

JAXA Releases the Complete Image Set from Kaguya’s HDTV Camera

From October 2007 to June 2009, Japan’s SELENE (SELenological and ENgineering Explorer) mission orbited the moon. The mission consisted of three spacecraft. The largest was better known by the nickname the public had chosen for it: Kaguya, honoring a lunar princess of Japanese legend.

During its expedition, the SELENE mission returned a wealth of scientific information from its polar orbit, such as the most detailed map of the moon’s gravity field ever obtained up until that time.

The Kaguya spacecraft also carried cameras, including one with a pair of 2.2 megapixel HDTV sensors that captured the first high-definition video from the moon. Thanks to this clear-eyed video camera, many of Kaguya’s images—especially the shots showing the Earth rising and setting at the lunar horizon—are moving in both senses of the word.

Now the Japanese space agency, JAXA, has publicly released the entire data set from Kaguya’s HDTV cameras. The iconic views are all some gems that haven’t been widely seen before. One reason they weren’t previously released may be that some of them are “marred” by lens flare and other imperfections, but I think such things lend interesting visual texture and context to the images and videos.

Enjoy a few examples below, then visit the Kaguya HDTV Data Publication System website if you want to explore further.

More than seven years after Kaguya’s planned impact on the lunar surface, it’s good to have these fresh visions, courtesy of the moon’s brave princess.

Half Earth from Kaguya
Half Earth from Kaguya There’s a beautiful Earth out tonight: A still shot from Kaguya’s HDTV camera on New Year’s Eve, 2007.Image: JAXA / NHK
Crescent Earth from Kaguya
Crescent Earth from Kaguya The Kaguya spacecraft acquired this image of a crescent Earth beyond the horizon of our Moon on February 24, 2008.Image: JAXA / NHK
Earthset from Kaguya
Earthset from Kaguya In this still shot from the HDTV camera aboard the Kaguya spacecraft, the Earth appears to set below the lunar horizon as the spacecraft moves around the moon in its polar orbit. This view comes from an altitude of about 100 km in January 2008.Image: JAXA / NHK
Earth from Kaguya, with lens flare
Earth from Kaguya, with lens flare Lens flare from the sun adds texture to this view of Earth above the moon’s horizon, as seen by Japan’s Kaguya spacecraft in August 2008.Image: JAXA / NHK

Earthset Glare Viewed by Kaguya The Earth sets in the glare of the sun in this rarely-seen video from the Kaguya lunar orbiter in October 2008.Video: JAXA / NHK

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Rise of Earth and Venus Viewed by Kaguya Despite the lens flare, this video from Kaguya’s HDTV camera in November 2007 reveals a lovely Earthrise, followed by the rise of a star-like Venus. This video has been sped up to twice its original pace.Video: JAXA / NHK

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Lunar South Pole Earthset Viewed by Kaguya As it passes below the south pole of the moon in November 2007, JAXA’s Kaguya spies the Earth in the distance. This video is usually presented with the Earth above the moon’s horizon, but has been inverted here to show north as up.Video: JAXA / NHK

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