Apollo 16 in 3D

Like Apollo 15, Apollo 16’s landing area has good coverage from all 4 of the major players, but as with the ones preceding Apollo 15 the selenomorphology is relatively undramatic, and the lower resolution scans of India and China in particularly don’t add much. We’ll include them anyway, just for completeness. Here are the overall views of the site as seen by India (top left), China (top right), Japan (bottom left) and the LRO NAC composite (bottom right). All these views are taken looking westwards across the centre of the landing site and its area of interest: North and South rays.

As you can see they all show the same details when viewing the site from a distance. As with others, the Chinese data is not at all clear, so we won’t be looking at any surface panoramas using it, but we can at least use it to confirm the accuracy of everyone else’s! India’s surface model is also not perfect, and there are some unusual undulations in places as a result.

As with other missions there is an excellent record of the descent from PDI to touchdown, and we can use that to look at the first view the astronauts had of Descartes area. Here it is compared with a JAXA view, this time with the correct lighting conditions.

It should be obvious that, bar the direction of the shadows in the craters, the same features are visible in all of the 3D projections as can be seen in the 16mm footage, and the JAXA model picks out some very fine details visible in the film - a level of detail not seen in pre-Apollo Lunar Orbiter images.

While overall the terrain at the Descartes site is less dramatic than at Hadley Rille or Taurus-Littrow, that isn’t to say that there aren’t things of interest to look at and compare with Apollo imagery to the north and south of the LM, for example, are distant hilly areas known as Smoky Mountain and Stone Mountain respectively.

The Smoky mountain complex wasn’t photographed much, but it does appear in the famous ‘Grand Prix’ footage, and on a close up on a panoramic composite.

The area shown above in the composite is on immediately to the right of the rover on the horizon in the image on the left.

Here’s that same area as shown in the Indian, JAXA and LRO based DEMs - I’ve not bothered to recreate the views exactly, just show the same area, and that area shows the same collection of hills and valleys as the surface images.

Some other nice matches can be found with close-up views of craters, though by and large the JAXA and Chandrayaan images don’t offer enough detail to show these well. This view shows Flag crater, matched with the LRO version.

This image of Buster crater contain a wealth of detail that is matched by that shown in the LRO version of it.

And here we have a nice view of Stone mountain in the distance and Plum crater.

One of the most spectacular shots from the mission is this view across North Ray crater towards the mountains behind it, and because of the scale involved we can also use the Japanese, Chinese and Indian models.

Apollo Overview 3D Overview

At this point it’s worth introducing another little technique that QGIS to counter the brightness associated with the ray craters - adjusting the histogram. In this example I’ve zoomed right in on North Ray crater. I’ve selected the photographic layer and clicked ‘Local Histogram Stretch.

This will look at the range of brightness values visible in the window and adjust it automatically. You could also fiddle with the brightness and contrast levels to try and make the image look better. In this case the automatic process worked just fine and we get the view of North Ray shown below:

The crater is a lot clearer now all the brighter values have been toned down, and because we are zoomed in more (which is why you can no longer see the mountains) the details are much clearer. I’ve included this model of the crater in the downloads available at the end.

China’s views can also be similarly overbrightened, and here’s how the same view looks when adjusted.

As with all the other examples from all the missions, the 3D DEM models provide ample confirmation that the views taken by Apollo astronauts are completely accurate. Many of the panoramas used here were published in popular periodicals like National Geographic and scientific reports nearly 50 years ago, and probes from different countries confirm that they are genuine.

Explore these models for yourself:





LRO North Ray