Astrophotographer Captures ‘World’s Clearest Picture’ of the Moon’s Craters

May 8, 2020 Updated: May 27, 2020

An astrophotographer has reportedly shared the “world’s clearest picture” of the Moon’s craters taken from his own backyard, and the result is nothing short of breathtaking.

California-based astrophotographer Andrew McCarthy shot two weeks’ worth of frames of the waxing Moon and stacked thousands of images together to create a final stunning composite image. The now-viral photo depicts an array of craters, valleys, and textural imperfections on the 4.5-billion-year-old satellite’s surface in extraordinary detail.

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Astrophotographer Andrew McCarthy’s composite picture of the Moon’s craters. (Courtesy of Andrew McCarthy)

After completing the meticulous process, the lunar enthusiast took to social media to share his expert handiwork with the world. McCarthy titled his image “All Terminator” and described his accomplishment as a “beast of a project.”

“This moon might look a little funny to you, and that’s because it is an impossible scene,” McCarthy wrote on his Instagram page, @cosmic_background.

“From two weeks of images of the waxing moon, I took the section of the picture that has the most contrast (right before the lunar terminator where shadows are the longest),” he added, “aligned and blended them to show the rich texture across the entire surface.”

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Astrophotographer Andrew McCarthy’s composite picture of the Moon’s craters. (Courtesy of Andrew McCarthy)

McCarthy described his method as “exhausting to say the least,” as waxing shadows meant that his images of the Moon didn’t naturally line up day after day. “[E]ach image had to be mapped to a 3D sphere and adjusted to make sure each image aligned,” McCarthy said.

The title for McCarthy’s now-viral lunar image, “All Terminator,” is a homage to the lunar terminator—the perceptible line between the light and dark sides of the Moon. Owing to the lunar terminator, our celestial neighbor’s features such as craters and valleys appear defined and elongated.

Craters appear most visible near the terminator because their height and depth make them easier to discern there, according to NASA Science.

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The long shadows along the Moon’s terminator reveal hidden craters in this picture from Dec. 14, 2019. (Courtesy of Andrew McCarthy)

McCarthy took his original lunar shots using ASI1600MM and Celestron edgeHD 800 cameras. He is considering repeating his two-week astrophotography project for the Moon’s waning phase. A repetition of the painstaking process, he said, all depends upon the feedback he receives.

A similar visual phenomenon to the lunar terminator also occurs on Earth. The comparatively diffused area that separates light from dark on Earth, however, causes the fuzzy twilight that we refer to as dawn and dusk. The Sun’s light bounces off molecules of gas in the atmosphere on its way to Earth’s surface, getting scattered in the process. The Moon has no atmosphere, however, so the Sun’s light reaches its surface directly, without being scattered, resulting in a well-defined terminator.

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(Courtesy of Andrew McCarthy)

Beside generously sharing “All Terminator” online for the world to enjoy, McCarthy also sells prints of his other work to help fund his passion.

“I love being able to introduce people to the wonders of our universe,” McCarthy told My Modern Met in an interview in 2019. “It is absolutely incredible, and the fact that I’m a backyard astronomer makes it a bit more accessible to people.”

“You don’t need billions of dollars in equipment to explore the universe,” he added.