Thanks to a new 3-D map of the moon, earthbound viewers can see its landscape with a clarity that only Apollo’s astronauts have previously enjoyed.
“NASA put out some amazing digital elevation data of the moon late last year, but nobody had released it in true 3-D. So I decided I would,” said Jeffrey Ambroziak, the map’s creator.
Ambroziak recently launched a Kickstarter project to fund the printing of a full-resolution, two-sided “National Geographic-style” 3-D moon map. The image above is a section of that full map. (No 3-D glasses? Follow Wired’s How-To Wiki article on creating a custom pair, which in a pinch can be done with just a CD jewel box and some markers.)
Traditional 3-D images create the illusion of depth by tricking your brain into merging two slightly different images. Red-blue anaglyphs that superimpose separate images use this technique, as do 3-D movies that alternate perspective in every second frame.
Ambroziak doesn’t consider these kinds of images to be truly 3-D, as viewers must look at them from a specific distance and angle. Glancing from the sides, or walking toward or away from the image, distorts or destroys the illusion.
“If you watch Avatar in 3-D and move toward the screen, it becomes so distorted you can’t watch it. With maps, a single perspective doesn’t cut it. You want to stick your nose right up there,” said Ambroziak.
Frustrated by these limitations, Ambroziak and his father, Russell Ambroziak, developed an algorithm to give 3-D maps a broader perspective. The trick works by both altering the brightness of pixels and stretching or compressing them, based on where they’re supposed to appear relative to a predetermined perspective.
In 1999 they filed a patent for their creation, called the Ambroziak Infinite Perspective Projection (or AIPP). At the time, however, there wasn’t enough data to make a moon map.
“Twelve years ago, when I invented the format, I was scratching the bottom of the barrel to get any data at all. Now there’s so much free data out there just waiting to be transformed,” said Ambroziak, who used NASA’s latest Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera data to create the new map.
The map allows for 3-D viewing from nearly any angle or distance. The moon map, along with his 3-D maps of Antarctica and Mars, have been displayed at the Underline art gallery in Manhattan. They’ve also captured the interest of the U.S. military, which could use such maps to train pilots over realistic terrain.
If enough people are interested in the full version of his new lunar map, which covers about 8 percent of the moon’s surface, he’ll look into crafting the remaining 92 percent of NASA’s lunar elevation data into 3-D maps.
“Until recently I’ve resisted licensing [AIPP],” he said. “But I loved the idea of using Kickstarter to gauge people’s interest. We’ll have to see what happens.”
Image: This AIPP image is a 1000-by-666-pixel section of the full-resolution 3-D map, which will be a 5398-by-7000-pixel graphic. The perspective is set about 10,500 feet above the bottom of the Heinsius crater, a three-crater formation just below center. The topological elevation tops out at 3,940 feet on piles of ejected rock at the lip of Capuanus crater at top left. (Jeffrey Ambroziak)
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