Topographical data is gathered from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter, aka LOLA, which is aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO — a robotic scout that is gathering information about the moon from 50 kilometers [31 miles] above its surface.
LOLA has been measuring the the surface slopes, roughness and brightness of the moon. By taking this information, the folks at the Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio have compiled the moon’s appearance over the course of 2011 into the video above.
Although we only see one side of the moon, as the video shows, this side appears different throughout the year because of the moon’s orbit and the tilt of its axis. Sped up in the video, these appear to cause the moon to wobble, known as libration. It’s also pretty cool to see the monthly phases of the moon’s cycle in such detail and at such speed.