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New image captures 'impossible' view of the moon's surface

The moon looks clearer than ever in this epic composite image
The moon looks clearer than ever in this epic composite image (Image credit: Andrew McCarthy)

Shadows creep down the banks of every crater on the near-side of the moon, highlighting the pockmarked face of Earth's gravitationally-bound buddy with a clarity never before seen.

According to photographer Andrew McCarthy, who posted the stunning image to his Instagram in April, there's a simple explanation for the unprecedented level of detail in his work — this lunar view is actually "impossible."

"This moon might look a little funny to you, and that's because it is an impossible scene," McCarthy wrote on Instagram. "From two weeks of images of the waxing moon, I took the section of the picture that has the most contrast … aligned and blended them to show the rich texture across the entire surface."

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The high-contrast section of the moon that McCarthy referred to is called the "lunar terminator" — the long line in the sand (or regolith, if you prefer) that divides the moon’s Earth-facing side between darkness and light. This terminator line moves around constantly depending on the phase of the moon, revealing or concealing new sections of the lunar surface each day. Because the terminator line heightens the contrast between the light and dark sides of the moon’s face, shadows look elongated and intensified in craters closest to the terminator.

With this in mind, McCarthy trained his camera on the craters closest to the lunar terminator every night for two weeks as the moon waxed toward complete illumination. By the time the moon was full, McCarthy had a series of high-contrast, high-definition photos of every crater on the moon's Earth-facing side. Blending them into a single composite image was "exhausting," he wrote, but ultimately resulted in the gorgeously detailed shot seen above — an image that McCarthy calls the "all terminator" moon.

This impossible composite can't really be considered a true photograph of the moon, but the finished whole certainly amounts to more than the sum of its shady-cratered parts.

Editor's note: This article was updated on May 7 at 12 p.m. ET

A post shared by Andrew McCarthy (@cosmic_background) (opens in new tab)

A photo posted by on on Apr 14, 2020 at 6:48pm PDT

Originally published on Live Science.

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Brandon Specktor
Senior Writer

Brandon has been a senior writer at Live Science since 2017, and was formerly a staff writer and editor at Reader's Digest magazine. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post,, the Richard Dawkins Foundation website and other outlets. He holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from the University of Arizona, with minors in journalism and media arts. He enjoys writing most about space, geoscience and the mysteries of the universe.

  • ipagal
    Okay cool but let's all agree this has nothing to do with the Moon moving in and out of the "Earth's shadow"
  • tomxp411
    ipagal said:
    Okay cool but let's all agree this has nothing to do with the Moon moving in and out of the "Earth's shadow"

    Agreed. Statements like "as the moon moves in and out of Earth's shadow" show a fundamental misunderstanding of what's going on and what causes the phases of the moon. The only time the moon is in the Earth's shadow is during a Lunar eclipse, and that only happens once every few years.

    You'd think a science writer would be better informed than that.

    I'm going to chalk this one up as a hastily written explanation, written under a deadline, rather than ignorance on the part of the write. (I've said dumb things myself like this, in the past, even though I knew better. Sometimes you just say something quickly and miss it during your proofreading pass, because you're in a hurry to get something out.)

    As to the subject itself - this photo of the moon - that's amazing. That artist did great work putting that together, and it is beautiful.