Map the moon without getting dusty

The waxing gibbous Moon as observed from Earth
Beautiful desolation

Even though we’ve been studying the moon for decades, we still have a lot to learn. One of the best ways to learn more about the moon is to study its craters. And if it’s one thing the moon has, it’s craters… by the thousands.

Studying craters may sound like an odd thing to do, but craters can tell us a lot about the moon’s surface: how old it is, how thick the soil (FYI: lunar soil is called regolith) is, what types of erosion processes take place on the moon, and what might be underneath the surface. Of course, studying craters will also give researchers a better idea of how hard and how often the moon has been hit with various objects.

If you sign up for Moon Mappers, you can take part in one of two tasks. In the “Simply Craters” task, you can mark craters and flag interesting images for follow-up. In the “Man vs. Machine” task, you’ll show a computer program where it has messed up in its attempts at identification by pointing out its mistakes. Participating in the Moon Mappers project may also give you a whole new respect for people who study remote images for a living, because identifying objects from afar is trickier than it sounds. Depending on the angle of the shot, and the angle of the lighting, what looks like a crater in one image may look like a hill in another.

While you’re at it, you can check out photos of the Apollo 15 landing site, like this one, and see some of the things our astronauts have left behind. And if astronomy in general interests you, keep the site bookmarked, as they will be offering online classes in the second quarter of 2012.