In 2007, a lunar orbiter built by Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) - called the SELENE (short for the Selenological and Engineering Explorer) - went into orbit around the moon. Despite the significance of its mission - the spacecraft remains relatively unknown. So no need to thank us for bringing these incredible images to your attention. Over the course of its two year mission (it was detonated as a lunar bomb in 2009) - the sophisticated on-board camera took several images. Many of them recreated several of the iconic images taken by Apollo crew members. The essence of the spirituality of the manned missions was still there - the only thing missing is the crappy, 70's-based technology that gave us low resolution images.
SELENE's primary objective was to study the moon's formation and subsequent evolution. While the images are pretty stellar in and of themselves (pun intended) - the orbiter served a much more useful purpose. It will help determine the best location for future manned mission landings, along with helping us develop better technology to make the most of said exploration project. (The craft did a lot of research on the moons electromagnetic field - something that will be important in combating human over-exposure to high-energy radiation)
Here; we have complied several of the best images SELENE had to offer (all of which can be seen below). Most were taken from a vantage point of about 62-mile (100 kilometers) from the moon's surface. (The collage in the center shows a penumbral eclipse from space)
Fun fact: While the project's official designation is "SELENE" - it was nicknamed ‘Kaguya’ by the Japanese people. (This story is cool and very fitting, so bare with me) The name comes from an old story about a special girl named “Kaguya-hime” (Princess Kaguya) When she was a baby, an old bamboo-cutter found her (she was glowing) among bamboo stalks in his field. Since he and his wife were childless, they took her in and raised her as their own.
She grew up to be quite the beauty - with many suitors who wanted to make her their wife, but Kaguya didn't want to marry any of them. So she presented each suitor with an impossible task. After they deceived her, the emperor of Japan proposed. She rejected his proposal. Later on in the year - the night of the harvest moon - she discovered that she was not from this planet, but she came from the palace of the moon. Then just like that, she departs. (Gotta love how crappy our names are in comparison)
You can see more images from SELENE here.
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