In many ways the data from Japan’s Kaguya Selene probe are the easiest to get hold of, once you get past the language barrier and the somewhat convoluted data ordering process, but there is so much of it that it can be difficult to know where to start. Hopefully this page will get you going and allow you to explore more.

You can access the data from Japan’s lunar probe here, where you will need to tick a box agreeing to their terms and conditions before accessing anything.

Once you’ve done that, you’ll get a page like the one on the right.

You now need to do two basic things.

First, select the product you want to look at, by which they mean the data from specific instruments on the lunar probe.

Second, set up the observation range, which is the area on the moon you want to look at.

Clicking on the product search gives the window below left. There are lots of different instruments to play with if you want to get all scientific with stuff, but the most useful ones to us are the HDTV images and the LISM ones, as these contain the most interesting pictures. To select these image types to search through them, click on it in the list then select ‘Add’. This will take you to another window like the one you can see below right.

In the example above I’ve added the LISM dataset, and as you can see there are lot of categories within that. I could have been a bit more selective by double clicking on LISM before hitting ‘Add’, then adding the sub-categories individually. It’s not a big deal - you can pick out the relevant ones later. If you want to add more, double click on the ‘Back to Instrument’ text and select the ones you want in the same way.

When you’re done, click the ‘Determination’ button. This will close the window and send you back to where you can choose which area you want to look at. If you want to start again, hit ‘Reset’ and it will clear the values in the list.

To select an area of the moon you want to explore click the ‘Set up Determination Range’ button, and you’ll get a window like the one below left. Use the pan tool and the +/- or mouse to move around the map and focus in on our area of interest. Once you get to the area you want, draw a square around it so it looks like the window below right.

The larger the area you select, the more images the search will return, which means you may have to wade through a lot more search results to get to the area in which you’re interested.

When you’re happy, click the ‘Determination of selection range’ button to return to the search page.

That’s it so far! All you need to do now is hit the ‘Execute Search’ button.

You’ll next be taken to the search result window, and there will be a list of images using whatever instrument type is top of the list. Use the drop down list (below left) to select something more useful. I tend to go for the TC Evening and Morning Maps as these group areas of the surface covered by other visible spectrum instruments into larger tiles that are easier to find things on, but by all means explore the other ones. If you picked a large area there may be several pages of images to go through, which is why the larger tiles are easier to manage!

The next job is to find which tile contains the image you want, so click on the ‘Thumbnail’ link. You’ll get an image like the one below left. If it’s the right one, tick the box that says ‘Order’ (below right, top). When you’ve got all the images you want, click ‘Add Cart’. You’ll get a box appear to confirm that it’s happened (below right, bottom).

As an aside, there’s no reason why you can’t right click that thumbnail and save it, the quality is still pretty good.

When you’ve added all the images you want to the cart, hit the ‘Confirm Order Contents’ button, which will take you to a page listing the images you’ve added. Don’t worry if it all looks like you’re about to asked for a payment - it may read like it’s a shopping order, but it’s all free!

Hit ‘download’, and you’ll be taken to yet another window that will list all the files you ordered:

Finally this is the file you need to download, so click on it to start.

This will save a file with the extension ‘.sl2’. While this is an odd extension it’s actually just a form of file compression, and you can open it with (for example) winrar or if you’re using Windows 10 the built in 7Zip application. All you need to do is extract the archive to the folder of your choice. In the image below you can see the sort of files to expect.

The important file there is the ‘.img’ file, and this is where we need to start using some specialist software.

If you’re a GIS user, you can import this into your software of choice (such as QGIS), and we’ll look at that in a while, but for now we’ll use JAXA’s own software which you can download here. It’s a standalone file, which means you don’t need to install anything, just save it somewhere you can find it and run it from there.

When you do run it, go to the ‘File Menu’, select ‘Open’ and browse to the ‘.img’ file you extracted earlier.

You’ll see a window like this.

If you wanted you can type in a specific range of pixels to load, but you may as well just hit ‘OK’ to load the image.

The image will load up and you can have a pan around and see what’s there. There are other options in the software you can play with, but it’s much easier to extract the image into a more usable format and load it up in something like GIMP or Photoshop.

For some reason, I’ve found that if you use any other zoom level than ‘75%’ the software throws up an error so it’s best to set your zoom level to that and then go to the file menu to save the image.

You’ll only get the option to save as ‘.png’, but you can change this in your image editing software of choice.

And there you have it - an image of the moon that you picked and processed yourself!

The main benefit of this method is that you can start processing the image immediately, rather than subject it to a lossy conversion process and end up working on a much lower quality image, so it’s worth a go.

Can you do any other fun things with Japan’s images? Why, yes you can!

I mentioned earlier that you can use GIS application to load the kind of image formats you get from space probes, and that you can do fun things with them. The QGIS application is free, open source, and pretty powerful. You can do immensely complicated analyses but you can also do some simple things to get nice images out of it. I am in no way pretending that I am an expert in it, or that what I am going to describe below is the definitive way of getting useful data from the JAXA (or any other) probe.

Once you’ve downloaded and installed QGIS, open the shortcut for ‘QGIS Desktop with GRASS’. The easiest next step is to have split your desktop so half of it is QGIS and the other half your JAXA file. Simply drag the ‘.img’ file into the QGIS window and it will add it as a new layer.

If all you want to do is save the raw image as a jpg, or png or whatever, all you need to do next is go to the ‘Project’, ‘Save As Image’ option and choose the format you want. The nice thing here is that it will save what you can see in the project window, so if you want to save a view of a much smaller area, just use the pan and zoom tools to get to where you want and then save the image. It’s worth pointing out here that the image quality of the saved output is not as good as you get from JAXA’s own software, so if you want high levels of detail you might want to use that instead.

What else can we do? One of the uses of GIS software is to produce 3D visualisations of data, including maps and landscapes. QGIS has a couple of ways of doing this, and I’ll show you the simplest one.

Amongst the image types you can download from JAXA are DTM and DEM models, which are digital terrain and digital elevation models respectively. You can use these to turn your 2D overhead views of the moon into 3D models by using the Qgis2threejs plugin. Make sure this is installed by heading to the Plugin menu and choosing ‘Manage and Install Plugins’ to give you this window. Scroll down to look for Qgis2gthreejs plugin. If it doesn’t have a black ‘X’ by it, click on it and hit the ‘Install’ button.

So, your next thing is to download one of the DTM models from JAXA. In this example I’m looking at Taurus-Littrow, the landing site for Apollo 17. To do that I’ve downloaded the Morning Map and the ‘DTM_Map’ images.

The DTM map covers the same area and is the same filesize as the Morning Map, but in this case the file we want to drop into QGIS is the ‘.dtm’.

Having done that, I’ll run through what the 3D plugin produces to show you why you need more than one image.

The first thing to do is to zoom in to the area you want to look at in 3D. Next, go to the ‘Web’ menu and select the plugin, which will give you the following dialog box.

As we’re just learning here, you can leave things pretty much as they are. One thing you can look at is increasing the resolution of the output and re-sampling to get higher quality. You might also want to go to the ‘World’ tab and change the vertical exaggeration - the default is 1.5.

I also like to change the sky colour to black and remove the sides.

Notice that the DEM layer at the top is the file we added to QGIS.

Hit ‘Run’. The plugin will process the view you had in QGIS and then open your default browser - see below.

You can see from this that the resolution isn’t anything like that you can get from the Morning Map - you could probably have told that if I’d shown you the QGIS window. It’s not supposed to - the file just contains data about the terrain, not what colour it is! You can use mouse and keyboard controls to move around, zoom in and so on, and the dialog in the top right allows you to mess around with the display.

If the view seems too ‘far away’, try adjusting the ‘Vertical Shift’ value in the ‘World’ options to a higher value.

Let’s add some more information to the picture by adding the Map image.

As you’ve now added over 500Mb of data to QGIS, your processor might start to get a little hot!

OK, now go through the 3D plugin process again. Look at what’s happened to the model!

When you’ve dragged and dropped it in, make sure the Map layer is on top of the DTM layer.

Think about it - you want the surface you can see to sit on top of the landscape, so it makes sense to drape the surface imagery on top the DTM model.

Use the ‘Layers Panel’ in the bottom left hand corner to see the order these map layers have been places]d. Drag and drop to correct them if they are the wrong way round.

How cool is that!! Have a pan and zoom around and see what it does. To save it all you need to do is to take a screenshot and paste it into your image editing software, or hit ‘Shift’ & ‘S’ to save a png file.

The best thing you can do now with the plugin is to mess around with the various settings to see what happens - figure it out yourself! Here’s one screenshot I took earlier, mainly because it shares a view similar to one taken from Apollo 17’s lunar module of the command module (AS17-147-22467). I’ve cropped the Apollo image here:

One final thing that’s available to use from Japan’s lunar data is the 3DGIS tool, which works a little like Google Moon.

You can get it here, and it runs on java - your java security settings may warn you about it but it is fine.

Once the software is running, you can use the tools in the bottom left corner to rotate the view, turn it from a top down view to a more 3D version, and also exaggerate the elevations to make mountains look more dramatic. The left hand side shows you what other map layers are available.

Personally I find the colours a little too grey, so I’ll mess around with the contrast in an image editor to make it look a little nicer.

Now go have fun with Japanese space data!

You can make life slightly simpler in QGIS by just downloading packages labelled ‘DEM_TCOrtho’.

The package you’ll get from this consists of a DEM file and IMG file, which are both contained within another archive file (with the extension ‘.tgz’) inside the one you downloaded. They cover a much smaller area but the data quality is still good. Here, for example, is one I did from Apollo 15’s landing site (top), compared with an Apollo panorama taken on the ground (bottom).

If you are fortunate enough to own a copy of Photoshop it is possible to open these files directly, but ti does involve opening the .IMG file in the Kaguya viewer first to find the image size. I’ll save you the time there - these large image tiles are mostly 12288 pixels square. If you forget that or of the image is one of those odd ones that’s a different size, it gives you the image dimensions when you first open it in the Kaguya viewer.

First, go to ‘File’, ‘Open As’ in Photoshop and choose ‘Photoshop RAW’ from the ‘Open As’ drop down list.

Select the ‘.IMG’ image. You’ll get another dialogue box appear. You’ll need to enter the image size and choose a bit depth of 16 Bits and a Mac byte order.

Experience tells me that the header size needs to be specified or the image will be split in an odd order. Hit the ‘Guess’ button - it seems to know what it’s doing!

If the image looks odd, close everything and try a different set of options - I’ve also opened them where the Byte order was ‘PC’ instead of Mac.

When it does open the image will probable seem very dark. To fix that go to the ‘Image’ drop down and choose ‘Auto Tone’ - it will instantly look much better.

Apollo Overview 3D Overview