NASA has a big anniversary coming up this fall, as the space agency celebrates 60 years of existence on October 1. The festivities kicked off last month, with a fabulous concert by the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO), held at the Kennedy Center on June 1-2.
Titled “NSO Pops: Space, the Next Frontier,” the concert featured famous scores of space-inspired music — including Richard Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey), Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” and music from Carl Sagan’s Golden Record, notes the Kennedy Center — accompanied by spectacular images from NASA missions.
Among these visual presentations was a stunning video of the moon, which NASA has now released to the public, along with a full account of how it came to be.
Unveiled on July 20, to mark the 49th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, the video showcases a set of extraordinary sunsets and sunrises as seen on the moon’s surface.
Set to Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” this amazing photomontage uses footage from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to create almost poetic moon imagery that reveal the ancient celestial body in a whole different light.
And speaking of light, the lighting in the video “is derived from actual sun angles during lunar days in 2018,” NASA wrote in the video’s description on YouTube.
The visual artist behind this incredible creation is NASA science visualizer Ernie Wright, from the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Wright is an expert at using data from NASA missions — such as the LRO, which has been mapping the surface of the moon since 2008 — and turning them into dazzling visual representations. His past work includes the “Tour of the Moon in 4K” video below, released this April and which immediately went viral.
For the “Claire the Lune” video, Wright relied on a 3D model of the moon, constructed from LRO data recorded by the orbiter’s Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA). By analyzing the shape of the lunar terrain, LOLA created “the most accurate map of a celestial body’s topography ever created,” NASA revealed.
This 3D moon model was later clad in LRO photos by Wright to produce “breathtaking views of lunar landmarks, beginning with a sunrise dragging shadows across the surface and ending with sunsets lengthening the darkness along the same geography,” notes NASA.
According to Wright, Debussy’s composition offers the perfect musical setting to showcase the lunar imagery — “melancholy, solitary and contemplative, as if you’re alone, walking through a garden in the moonlight.”
“The result, with serene music that breathes in time with crisp visuals, is a perspective on our moon that Debussy could have only dreamed of when he tried to capture the essence of the body that dominates the night sky,” states NASA.