Lunar Surface Features: A Guide to the Moon’s Landscape

Have you ever gazed up at the moon on a clear night and wondered about its surface features? You’re not alone. The lunar landscape has long captivated the human imagination. In this article, we will explore the fascinating world of lunar surface features in detail, delving into the moon’s craters, mountains, volcanic plains, and more. Let’s embark on a journey through the lunar landscape, shall we?

A Brief Overview of the Moon’s Formation

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of lunar surface features, it’s essential to have a basic understanding of how the moon came to be. Most scientists believe that the moon was formed around 4.5 billion years ago when a Mars-sized object collided with Earth. The debris from this impact eventually coalesced to create the celestial body we now know as the moon.

Explore the hidden secrets of the Moon by reading about what has been discovered inside the Tycho Crater.

Craters: The Moon’s Most Iconic Feature

Lunar Crater Tycho. Credit: NASA.
Lunar Crater Tycho. Credit: NASA.

When you think of the moon’s surface, the first thing that comes to mind is probably craters. Craters are the result of meteoroid impacts, and they come in various shapes and sizes. Some of the most famous lunar craters include:

  1. Tycho: Named after the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, this prominent crater is easily visible from Earth with the naked eye. With a diameter of 85 kilometers (53 miles), Tycho boasts an extensive ray system that extends for more than 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) from its center.
  2. Copernicus: Another striking crater, Copernicus, has a diameter of 93 kilometers (58 miles) and is surrounded by a series of smaller craters. It’s named after the famous Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.

For an in-depth look at the fascinating Tycho crater, don’t miss our comprehensive beginner’s guide on Tycho Crater: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide.

Mountains and Rilles: Rugged Terrain and Sinuous Channels

On July 30, 1971, the Apollo 15 Lunar Roving Vehicle was positioned at the edge of the winding Rima Hadley channel.
On July 30, 1971, the Apollo 15 Lunar Roving Vehicle was positioned at the edge of the winding Rima Hadley channel.

The moon’s surface isn’t all about craters. The lunar landscape also features an array of mountains and rilles. Mountains on the moon are formed through tectonic processes and are generally smaller than those on Earth. Some of the most notable lunar mountain ranges include the Apennines, the Caucasus, and the Alps.

Rilles, on the other hand, are long, sinuous channels that resemble riverbeds. They are believed to have formed through volcanic activity and the subsequent collapse of lava tubes. Some famous rilles include Hadley Rille, which was visited by the Apollo 15 astronauts, and the intricate system of rilles in the Aristarchus Plateau.

Volcanic Plains: The Moon’s Darker Side

Position of Mare Serenitatis
Position of Mare Serenitatis.

The large, dark areas on the moon’s surface are known as volcanic plains or maria (Latin for “seas”). These expansive plains were formed by ancient volcanic eruptions that released molten lava, which filled in the basins created by earlier impacts. Some of the most well-known maria include Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains), Mare Serenitatis (Sea of Serenity), and Mare Tranquillitatis (Sea of Tranquility), where the Apollo 11 astronauts first set foot on the moon.


The lunar landscape is a diverse and fascinating world of craters, mountains, volcanic plains, and rilles. By studying these surface features, scientists can learn more about the moon’s history, formation, and the processes that have shaped it over billions of years. Next time you find yourself gazing up at the night sky, take a moment to appreciate the complexity of the moon’s surface and the countless stories it has to tell.

If you’re interested in getting a closer look at the moon’s fascinating surface features, check out our list of the best telescopes for 2023 to find the perfect instrument for your lunar observations.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What causes craters on the moon? Craters on the moon are primarily caused by meteoroid impacts. The moon’s lack of atmosphere means that these meteoroids can strike their surface at high speeds, creating the distinctive craters we see today.
  1. Are there any active volcanoes on the moon? While the moon once had volcanic activity, there is no current evidence to suggest that it still has active volcanoes. The volcanic activity that created the Maria is believed to have ceased around a billion years ago.
  2. Why does the moon have so many craters compared to Earth? The moon has more craters than Earth because it lacks an atmosphere and weathering processes. Earth’s atmosphere burns up most meteoroids before they can impact the surface, and weathering and erosion help to erase older craters. The moon’s surface, on the other hand, preserves craters for much longer periods.
  3. What is the highest mountain on the moon? The highest mountain on the moon is Mons Huygens, which stands at approximately 5,500 meters (18,000 feet) tall. It’s part of the Apennine mountain range and was named after the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens.
  4. How do scientists study lunar surface features? Scientists study lunar surface features through various methods, including analyzing images captured by lunar orbiters and telescopes and studying the samples brought back by the Apollo astronauts. In addition, missions like NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) continue to map and study the moon’s surface in great detail.

To learn more about the moon’s captivating landscape and features, be sure to check out our Complete Guide to Exploring the Moon.

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