A new way to create accurate maps of the lunar surface

There was a time when maps of the moon were made from telescope observations and maps. In fact Sir Patrick Moore created maps of the moon that were used during the historic Apollo landings. Researchers have now developed a technique to create accurate maps from existing satellite images. Their approach uses a technique called 'shape-from-shading’ and involves analyzing shadows to assess the features and shape of the landscape. Future lunar missions will use maps to detect surface hazards and make them safer.

Researchers at Brown University in Rhode Island have helped refine a process used to map the moon’s surface more precisely than ever before. Their paper, published in the journal Planetary Science, describes improvements to the mapping technique by Benjamin Botwright and team. It can create detailed models of the Moon’s surface to highlight craters, ridges and slopes from a composite of 2D images.

Close-up of the lunar surface (Credit NASA)

Highly detailed maps are critical to lunar missions and help planners find a safe place to land. Identify specific areas of interest that require further study and help the entire task become more efficient. Missions like the Artemis project would benefit from going to the moon’s south pole, an area that is not well mapped. High-resolution maps of space can help autonomous landing systems avoid hazards.

Artist’s impression of the Artemis lunar landing

Making maps is a time-consuming task and difficult to be accurate when the target area is poorly lit. Interpretation of shadows has been less effective so far, solving group problems. In their paper, the team explains how advanced computer algorithms can automate many processes and improve the resolution of generated models. Their new software gives lunar astronomers the tools and information they need to create large, detailed maps of the surface.

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At least two images of the same area are needed to allow lunar scientists to create a map from the images. Each image must be perfectly aligned with its counterpart so that features in one are in the same position as the other. So far, technology has not been able to create an accurate map by taking multiple images of an area. Boatwright said, 'We’ve implemented an image alignment algorithm that selects features in one image, finds the same features in another, and then tries to rank them so you don’t have to manually find points of interest across multiple images. , it takes a lot of hours and brain power.’

Along with the image alignment algorithm, researchers developed quality control algorithms and filters to remove poor quality images from the alignment process. By only inputting good quality images to the process the output will be of the highest quality. This is the same model that astronomical imaging uses when processing multiple images through stacking and alignment techniques.

To assess the accuracy of their work, the team compared the output of existing maps of the moon to detect errors. To their delight, they found that the maps created using the improved 'shape-from-shading’ technique were more accurate compared to maps obtained during traditional techniques.

Source: A new technique by Brown University researchers provides more accurate maps of the Moon’s surface

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