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Sometimes space photography is stunningly colorful. Other times, it’s limned in quieter shades of black, white, and gray. Fortunately, in the National Air & Space Museum’s “A New Moon Rises: Views from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera,” such monochrome hues are beautiful nonetheless.
The several dozen large-scale images on view have been made with a state-of-the-art, high-resolution camera since 2009.
The moon’s surface contains craters and peaks that look roughly like what we have here on earth. But there are also unfamiliar landforms with odd names like maria (dark lava flows), rilles (long, thin trenches), and swirls (ghostly light areas on the lunar surface). Some landmarks even suggest dimples or stretch marks. And careful timing is crucial for capturing these features; in many cases, the sun is only rarely at an angle that provides enough light to see them clearly.
The collection of images at the Air & Space museum includes the Apollo landing sites, complete with eerie remnants of humans’ past visits to the moon. But the most visually dramatic images are purely natural—the central peak in the Tycho impact crater, the expansive Giordano Bruno crater (middle), and a Copernican crater that, even in freeze frame, shows an irresistible centripetal force.
The exhibit’s one failing is that it provides little if any sense of scale; it would not have been hard to provide a side-by-side image of a mountain, crater or fault line on earth for comparison. Still, the images’ appeal is impossible to dismiss, thanks to a compelling mix of the familiar and the strange.
Through December 2016 at the National Air & Space Museum, Independence Ave. and 6th St. SW.