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Five billion years of lunar evolution in two minutes

From year to year, the moon never seems to change. Craters and other formations appear to be permanent now, but the moon didn't always look like this. Learn about how the moon evolved from its early state to how it looks today in this animation. Image courtesy NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Scientific visualizations by NASA have been selected for a prestigious event, held by the Association for Computer Machinery’s, Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques (SIGGRAPH), that starts this weekend. One of these simulations crams 4.5 billion years of lunar evolution into 2.41 minutes.

The SIGGRAPH 2012 conference is an annual showcase of the best computer graphics and technical research around. The NASA visualizations on show are ‘Coronal Mass Ejection and Ocean/Wind Circulation’, which simulates how the sun’s heat drives the Earth’s winds and ocean currents. The other simulations on show are NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center moon videos, 'Tour of the Moon’ and ‘Evolution of the Moon’. They were created in honor of the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s 1,000 days of orbiting our moon.

In particular, the ‘Evolution of the Moon’ visualization is entertainingly educational. It starts with our moon’s formation 4.5 billion years ago as a ball of molten rock, which then cooled to form a smooth ball of grey rock. Then, when it was 4.3 billion years old, a huge asteroid struck the South Pole-Aitken Basin, leaving one of the largest impact craters in the solar system at 2,500 kilometers (1,553 miles) in diameter. For billions of years after, countless large and small, asteroids pulverized the moon’s surface. The larger impacts created vast pools of lava that eventually cooled to form the darker scars, while the smaller cluster-bomb-like impacts caused the many pothole craters, we see on the moon today.

The SIGGRAPH 2012 conference and exhibition take place from 5 to 9 August 2012 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, California, US.

- Adrian Giordani

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