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# Calculating Lunar Crater Heights

## Nancy Thomas and Megan Brehm

Department of Astronomy, University of Washington

ABSTRACT

Lunar crater heights can be calculated using simple trigonometry
and images of the Moons terminator. To find the solar elevation
angle, we used the selenographic longitude of the terminator and our
craters. Our images from the University of Washington A-Wing
Observatory allowed us to estimate the heights of five lunar craters
by measuring the shadow lengths. For craters ranging in size from
23-41 km, we found crater heights ranging from 0.85-3.37 km. We
compared these values to laser altimeter data and measurements
recorded in a lunar impact database.

1. Introduction

The Moon, the nearest planetary body to Earth, has been closely studied through
the history of astronomy. Galileo drew one of the first telescopic drawings of the Moon
in his book Sidereus Nuncius and noted that the surface was not smooth. The craters
and mountains he noted were later mapped by Giovanni Battista Riccioli and Francesco
Maria Grimaldi in the 17
th
century. They started the system of naming lunar features
still in use today. Wilhelm Beer and Johann Heinrich Madler created an exact map of
the lunar surface called Mappa Selenographica in 1834-1836 with a trigonometric study
of the heights of more than a thousand mountains. Until the 1870s when Richard
Proctor proposed that craters are formed from impacts, the lunar craters were thought
to be volcanic in origin. The craters along the terminator, the division between the
illuminated and dark parts of the Moon, are particularly easy to study because the

The goal of this project was to accurately measure the heights of lunar craters
along the terminator using science images of taken at the University of Washington A-
Wing Observatory. By using simple trigonometry and the selenographic coordinates of
five target craters on the surface, we can calculate an estimate of the crater wall height.
To test the accuracy of our calculations, we compared our values to a lunar crater
database and data from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA).
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2. Observations

The images used in this paper were taken by Nancy Thomas, Megan Brehm,
Fanny Pacheco, Chris Velazquez, Nick Yang, Akel Hashim, Owen Kajfasz, and Ana
Larson at the A-Wing Observatory at the University of Washington on 19 April 2013
from 4:00 to 6:00 UT. We used the 16 Meade LX200ACF telescope which has a f/10
focal ratio. The CCD we used was an ST-10XME CCD (described in Table 1). Table 2
contains a list of the science, flat, and dark images taken that are used in this project.

Table 1: CCD Camera Information
Model ST-10XE
Dimensions 2184 x 1472 pixels
Pixel size 6.8 microns
Field of view 12.6

Table 2: Observations
Image Type Filter Exposure Time Number of Frames
Science Red 0.12 sec 7
Flat Red 0.4 sec 7
Dark N/A 0.12 sec 5
Dark N/A 0.4 sec 5

We used 2x2 binning for all our observations. Unfortunately, the weather was
mostly cloudy through the night. Our observations of the terminator of the Moon were
all made in a short window when the clouds parted.

3. Reduction

All image reduction for this project was done using IRAF (IRAF Manual). We
followed standard reduction techniques to remove the noise present in our data. All of
our images were taken in the red filter, so we only used one set of flat field frames to
account for wavelength-dependent variations in the overall system sensitivity. In
addition, dark frames were used to remove read noise by subtracting the bias level from
the science and flat field images.

The following steps were taken to reduce our science images:

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1. Average the flat field frames, the 0.4 sec dark frames, and the 0.12 sec
dark frames using imcombine
2. Subtract the average 0.4 sec dark frame from the average flat frame
using imarith
3. Normalize the flat frame by dividing by the mode using imstat and
imarith
4. Subtract the average 0.12 sec dark frame from each science image using
imarith
5. Divide each science image by the final flat frame using imarith

As our goal was to calculate crater rim height, we obviously did not need to
perform any photometry on our images. The only parameters necessary for the above
procedure was the mode of our flat field image, which was found using the IRAF task
imstat to be 17984 ADU. The images of the moon were saturated, so dividing by the
flat field frame actually added noise and error to our final science images. When the
images are stretched to very low contrast levels, the donuts present in our flat field can
be seen. This error will not affect our analysis and calculations. An example of one of
our final, reduced images is shown in Figure 1.

The full reduction procedure is carefully detailed and recorded as a log file
showing the IRAF command steps in Appendix A.

Figure 1 - Processed science image of the terminator approximately at the equator.
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4. Analysis

The goal of this project was to accurately calculate the heights of lunar craters
using information derived from our science images. First, we identified the approximate
locations of the craters in selenographic coordinates by piecing together all of our science
frames into one complete image of the terminator (Figure 2) and identifying the
corresponding craters on a Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) shaded relief map of
the surface. We estimated the longitude of the terminator using information provided by
the US Naval Observatory Moon Altitude/Azimuth table (US Naval Observatory, 2013).
The fraction illuminated at our time of observation (15:15 PDT on 19 May 2013) was
0.68. The selenographic longitude gives the position east of the Moons prime meridian,
the line of longitude passing through the point on the Moon directly facing the Earth.
Using this knowledge, we calculated that the terminator was at approximately 327.6 E
during our observations. This approximate longitude allowed us to identify the craters
in our science images. We chose five distinct, large craters with clear shadows in our
images to use for the height calculations. These craters are labeled in Figure 2.

The JMARS (Java Mission-planning and Analysis for Remote Sensing) geospatial
information system developed by the Arizona State University Mars Space Flight
Facility provides access to data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (Christensen et
al., 2009). Using JMARS, we empirically measured the diameters and coordinate
locations of our target craters (Table 3).

Table 3: Target craters
Name Longitude ( E) Latitude ( N) Diameter (km)
Helicon 336.883 40.430 23.15
Lambert 339.004 35.789 29.03
Euler 330.820 23.281 25.42
Reinhold 337.139 3.285 41.05
Lansberg 333.391 -0.336 38.46

In order to measure the shadow length of each target crater in our science images,
we first found the km/pixel ratio for each image. Even though all of our images were
taken in quick succession, the km/pixel ratio might vary across the images due to the
difference in latitude range in each frame. The values we measured for the diameter of
each crater (in pixels) and the resulting km/pixel ratio calculated using the diameters in
Table 3 are shown in Appendix B Table 1.

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We measured the shadow length of our target craters in pixels in each science
frame and converted the value to kilometers using the appropriate km/pixel ratio
(Appendix B Table 2). We then averaged the shadow lengths for each crater across the
science frames. The shadow length calculated here will only be the same as the actual
shadow length if the crater is viewed directly from above. Otherwise, the shadow is
foreshortened and the projected length we measure is shorter than the true length. We
compensated for this factor by dividing the apparent shadow length by the cosine of the
craters selenographic longitude to get the true length. The apparent and actual shadow
lengths are included in Table 4.

Table 4: Apparent and foreshortened shadow lengths
Length (km)
Length (km)
Helicon 13.35 14.52
Lambert 13.21 14.14
Euler 21.46 24.58
Reinhold 21.46 23.29
Lansberg 24.81 27.75

To calculate crater height, we needed the solar incidence angle at each crater. At
the terminator, by definition, the angle between the sunlight and the surface is 0
because the Sun is on the horizon. We calculated the Suns elevation angle by simply
taking the difference between the longitude of the terminator and the longitude of the
given crater. Using our images, we found the exact longitude of the terminator by
finding a small crater that the terminator passed through and using the craters
longitude: 328.85 E. The solar angles derived are included in Table 5.

Table 5: Calculated values for the solar angle
Helicon 0.14
Lambert 0.18
Euler 0.03
Reinhold 0.14
Lansberg 0.08

Given this information, we calculated the crater heights using some simple
trigonometry. Figure 3 shows the quantities in question. Using this figure, we found the
crater heights using the relationship h = s tan(). Because our solar elevation angles are
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all relatively small, we can use the small angle approximation to simplify this
relationship to h = s . Finally, the values we derived for the heights of the five target
craters are shown in Table 6.
Table 6: Calculated crater heights
Name Height (km)
Helicon 2.04
Lambert 2.51
Euler 0.85
Reinhold 3.37
Lansberg 2.20

Figure 2 - Seven science images of the moon stitched together into one complete image
of the terminator. Craters above the labels A-E are our target craters. A-Helicon, B-
Lambert, C-Euler, D-Reinhold, E-Lansberg.
A
B
C
D
E
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Figure 3 Schematic of the crater height calculation where is the solar elevation angle,
S is the shadow length, and h is the crater rim height.

We calculated the error present in our derived crater heights by estimating an
error of 2 pixels in the initial shadow length measurement. We then propagated this
error in shadow length through all the above calculations to get the error in height.
First, we multiplied the 2 pixel error by the average km/pixel conversion (1.31). Next,
we foreshortened this length in kilometers by dividing by the cosine of the average
selenographic longitude. Finally, we multiplied by the average solar angle and found
an height error of 0.33 km.

5. Discussion

We tested the accuracy of our crater height calculations by comparing our values
to data from LOLA. In JMARS, we plotted elevation profiles across each of our craters
and calculated the crater height by taking the difference between the rim elevation and
the floor elevation. A sample crater elevation profile for Reinhold is shown in Figure 4.
For each crater, we carefully selected the elevation profile across the center of the crater
in the same direction as the shadow. By selecting this direction, we were measuring the
height of the crater wall casting the shadow. The measured LOLA crater height values
are included in Table 7.
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Figure 4 LOLA elevation profile of Reinhold crater plotted from western to eastern
rim (on the x-axis). The y-axis shows the elevation in meters.

In addition, we compared our derived values for the crater heights to the
published Lunar Impact Crater Database from the Lunar and Planetary Institute
(Losiak et al., 2009). These values are included in Table 7.

Table 7: Calculated crater heights compared to the heights measured with LOLA data
and the heights according the Lunar Impact Crater Database
Name Height (km) LOLA Height (km) Database Height (km)
Helicon 2.04 1.87 2.00
Lambert 2.51 2.36 2.18
Euler 0.85 1.47 2.09
Reinhold 3.37 3.20 2.50
Lansberg 2.20 2.04 2.4

By comparing these values we see that all of our calculated heights fall within the
error (0.33 km) except for Euler and Reinhold. Upon further investigation, we found
that the discrepancy between the database value for Reinholds height and our
calculated and LOLA measured heights is due to the fact that the shadow is being cast
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by the highest rim of the crater. The database values represent the height difference
between the crater floor and the average rim height. As you can see from the crater
profile plotted in Figure 4, the unusually elevated Eastern rim has caused our calculated
height and the LOLA height to be greater than the database height.

The height we calculated for Euler crater was approximately 1.9 away from the
LOLA height and 3.8 away from the database height. This significant deviation is
likely due to the difficulty present in measuring the crater shadow length. Because Euler
was closest to the terminator, the shadow extended almost to the Western rim of the
crater making the pixel estimations difficult.

6. Summary

In this project, we measured the heights of five target lunar craters by measuring
their shadow lengths in our science images. With some trigonometry using the solar
elevation angle, we calculated the crater heights to be 0.85-3.37 km. The crater heights
we found were consistent with cataloged values and the actual values observed by
LOLA except in the case of Euler, the target crater closest to the Moons terminator.
We could test if our method was failing due to the small solar elevation angle by
measuring the heights of other craters near the Moons terminator.

REFERENCES

Barnes, J. 1993, A Beginners Guide to IRAF (IRAF Version 2.10), NOAO, Tuscon,
Arizona.

Christensen, P.R. et al. 2009, JMARS A Planetary GIS,

Losiak et al. 2009, Lunar Impact Crater Database,
http://www.lpi.usra.edu/lunar/surface/. Revised by Ohman, LPI (2011).

US Naval Observatory. 2013, Altitude and Azimuth of the Sun or Moon During One
Day, http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/AltAz.php.

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APPENDIX

Appendix A:

##Make lists of file types

ls science*.fits > science.lis
ls dark*.4s.fits > dark4s.lis
ls dark*.12s.fits > dark12s.lis
ls rflat*.fits > flats.lis

##Make average files

epar imcombine

imcombine
List of images to combine ('@dark4s.lis'):
List of output images ('dark4avg.fits'):

Jun 3 15:21: IMCOMBINE
combine = average, scale = none, zero = none, weight = none
blank = 0.
Images
dark1.4s.fits
dark2.4s.fits
dark3.4s.fits
dark4.4s.fits
dark5.4s.fits

Output image = dark4avg.fits, ncombine = 5

imcombine
List of images to combine ('@dark12s.lis'):
List of output images ('dark12avg.fits'):

Jun 3 15:22: IMCOMBINE
combine = average, scale = none, zero = none, weight = none
blank = 0.
Images
dark1.12s.fits
dark2.12s.fits
dark3.12s.fits
dark4.12s.fits
dark5.12s.fits
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Output image = dark12avg.fits, ncombine = 5

imcombine
List of images to combine ('@flats.lis'):
List of output images ('flatavg.fits'):

Jun 3 15:23: IMCOMBINE
combine = average, scale = none, zero = none, weight = none
blank = 0.
Images
rflat1.fits
rflat2.fits
rflat3.fits
rflat4.fits
rflat5.fits

Output image = flatavg.fits, ncombine = 5

##Subtract average of .4s darks from average of the flats (taken at .4s)

epar imarith

imarith
Operand image or numerical constant ('flatavg.fits'):
Operator (+|-|*|/|min|max) ('-'):
Operand image or numerical constant ('dark4avg.fits'):
Resultant image ('subflatavg.fits'):
IMARITH:
Operation = -
Operand1 = flatavg.fits
Operand2 = dark4avg.fits
Result = subflatavg.fits
Result pixel type = real
Calculation type = real

##Normalize this new flat file by dividing subflatavg.fits by the mode

imstat subflatavg.fits fields="mode"
# MODE
17984.

epar imarith

imarith
Operand image or numerical constant ('subflatavg.fits'):
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Operator (+|-|*|/|min|max) ('/'):
Operand image or numerical constant ('17984.0'):
Resultant image ('finalflat.fits'):
IMARITH:
Operation = /
Operand1 = subflatavg.fits
Operand2 = 17984.0
Result = finalflat.fits
Result pixel type = real
Calculation type = real
Replacement value for division by zero = 0.

## Subtract the average of the .12 s darks from each science image (from the science list)

epar imarith

imarith
Operand image or numerical constant ('@science.lis'):
Operator (+|-|*|/|min|max) ('-'):
Operand image or numerical constant ('dark12avg.fits'):
Resultant image ('@science.lis'):
IMARITH:
Operation = -
Operand1 = science1.fits
Operand2 = dark12avg.fits
Result = science1.fits
Result pixel type = real
Calculation type = real
IMARITH:
Operation = -
Operand1 = science2.fits
Operand2 = dark12avg.fits
Result = science2.fits
Result pixel type = real
Calculation type = real
IMARITH:
Operation = -
Operand1 = science3.fits
Operand2 = dark12avg.fits
Result = science3.fits
Result pixel type = real
Calculation type = real
IMARITH:
Operation = -
Operand1 = science4.fits
Operand2 = dark12avg.fits
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Result = science4.fits
Result pixel type = real
Calculation type = real
IMARITH:
Operation = -
Operand1 = science5.fits
Operand2 = dark12avg.fits
Result = science5.fits
Result pixel type = real
Calculation type = real
IMARITH:
Operation = -
Operand1 = science6.fits
Operand2 = dark12avg.fits
Result = science6.fits
Result pixel type = real
Calculation type = real
IMARITH:
Operation = -
Operand1 = science7.fits
Operand2 = dark12avg.fits
Result = science7.fits
Result pixel type = real
Calculation type = real

## Divide each science image by the normalized flat frame to get the final processed science images

epar imarith

imarith
Operand image or numerical constant ('@science.lis'):
Operator (+|-|*|/|min|max) ('/'):
Operand image or numerical constant ('finalflat.fits'):
Resultant image ('@science.lis'):
IMARITH:
Operation = /
Operand1 = science1.fits
Operand2 = finalflat.fits
Result = science1.fits
Result pixel type = real
Calculation type = real
Replacement value for division by zero = 0.
IMARITH:
Operation = /
Operand1 = science2.fits
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Operand2 = finalflat.fits
Result = science2.fits
Result pixel type = real
Calculation type = real
Replacement value for division by zero = 0.
IMARITH:
Operation = /
Operand1 = science3.fits
Operand2 = finalflat.fits
Result = science3.fits
Result pixel type = real
Calculation type = real
Replacement value for division by zero = 0.
IMARITH:
Operation = /
Operand1 = science4.fits
Operand2 = finalflat.fits
Result = science4.fits
Result pixel type = real
Calculation type = real
Replacement value for division by zero = 0.
IMARITH:
Operation = /
Operand1 = science5.fits
Operand2 = finalflat.fits
Result = science5.fits
Result pixel type = real
Calculation type = real
Replacement value for division by zero = 0.
IMARITH:
Operation = /
Operand1 = science6.fits
Operand2 = finalflat.fits
Result = science6.fits
Result pixel type = real
Calculation type = real
Replacement value for division by zero = 0.
IMARITH:
Operation = /
Operand1 = science7.fits
Operand2 = finalflat.fits
Result = science7.fits
Result pixel type = real
Calculation type = real
Replacement value for division by zero = 0.

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Appendix B:

Table 1: Measured values for the diameter of each crater (in pixels) in each frame and
the resulting km/pixel ratio found by dividing the diameter in kilometers (see Table 3)
by the diameter in pixels. Note that the target craters are not present in each frame.
Frame 1 Frame 2 Frame 5
Name Diam. (pix) km/pix Diam. (pix) km/pix Diam. (pix) km/pix
Helicon 17 1.36
Lambert 22 1.32 23 1.26
Euler 19 1.34 18 1.41
Reinhold 34 1.21 33 1.24
Lansberg 29 1.33 30 1.28 30 1.28
Average 1.31 1.28 1.30

Frame 6 Frame 7
Name Diam. (pix) km/pix Diam. (pix) km/pix
Helicon 17 1.36 17 1.36
Lambert 23 1.26 22 1.32
Euler 18 1.41
Reinhold 33 1.24
Lansberg 28 1.37
Average 1.33 1.34

Table 2: shadow lengths L measured from the science images in pixels and kilometers
(converted using the km/pixel ratios in Table 1). Note that the target craters are not
present in each frame.
Frame 1 Frame 2 Frame 5
Name L (pix) L (km) L (pix) L (km) L (pix) L (km)
Helicon 11 14.42
Lambert 10 13.11 10 13.00
Euler 17 22.28 16 20.80
Reinhold 17 22.28 16 20.80
Lansberg 19 24.90 19 24.36 19 24.70

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Frame 6 Frame 7 Average
Name L (pix) L (km) L (pix) L (km) L (km)
Helicon 10 13.31 11 14.75 13.35
Lambert 10 13.31 10 13.41 13.21
Euler 16 21.29 21.46
Reinhold 16 21.29 21.46
Lansberg 19 25.28 24.81