The Moon looms large for earthlings, but — high-powered telescopes being pricey as they are — few of us have the chance to observe its intricacies. French designer Oscar Lhermitte hopes to change that. With MOON, a topographically accurate lunar globe he’s painstakingly shaped out of rotocasted polyurethane resin and astronomical data, he’s come close.

Lhermitte got the idea to lasso the moon several years ago while looking through surface pictures snapped by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Struck by the details, Lhermitte pondered how he might be able to make the agency’s images into more than JPEGs or photos. “Are there enough high resolution pictures to recreate the whole thing in 3D?” he recalls asking himself. Long story short: The answer was yes. The product he created has now blown through its Kickstarter funding goal.

MOON's rotation sped up. The revolving LED light recreates the current phase of the moon 

MOON displays the current phase of the moon at any given time with an LED light fixture that revolves around a fixed, topographically accurate lunar globe. The globe is a 1/20 million replica of the moon exactly to scale that features the exact lunar terrain as pictured by NASA, down to every crater, ridge, and slight point of elevation. The combination of accurate 3D terrain and a revolving light source distinguishes Lhermitte’s state-of-the-art model from other lunar globes.

MOON details: every crater, ridge, and point of elevation is brought into relief by shadows

Lhermitte began by 3D printing an accurate prototype from which to make a cast. Using advanced software, Lhermitte converted the 2D photographs he obtained from NASA into a 3D model. Once he had the cast, he began making models from polyurethane resin.

The cast made from the 3D printed model

For the LED fixture, Lhermitte recruited the help of Kudu, an engineering team comprised of some of his friends from college. In order to get the LED fixture to display the current phase of the moon, Kudu helped make a computer located in the base of the light fixture controlled by an algorithm that knows the different phases of the moon for the next 100 years. The internal clock inside the computer keeps pace with the phases of the moon, even when the machine is unplugged. “There’s a battery inside so the clock will still be running, which means if you turn it on two years from now, it’s going to know where it should be,” Lhermitte says.

The computer inside the base of the LED light fixture

If you don’t want to wait 28 days to see all the different phases of the moon, Lhermitte and Kudu designed two other phases for MOON. The manual mode allows users to set the phase of the moon they want to see, while the demo mode does an automatic rotation through all the phases in 30 seconds. The MOON is also groundbreaking in its display of the dark side of the Moon. Lhermitte’s MOON displays it as it actually appears in space, lit by the sun.

The different phases of the moon on the base of the LED lights

Lhermitte has helmed many other projects, including one space-related exhibition that commented on light pollution in London, but he’s proudest of MOON. “There’s a reason for every single component and that’s what I really like,” he says, referring to the painstaking four year process behind the project. After reaching his goal of $35,589 goal after just two days, his campaign has now raked in nearly $200,000, enough to allow the MOON team to make 200 more models.

The MOON team (Lhermitte in the middle)

While Lhermitte has already heard from plenty of shops that are interested in selling his product, he didn’t design it for retail purposes. His dream for MOON is to see it adapted as a public exhibition someday, and in a much larger form. The MOON models on the Kickstarter page have a diameter of 6.8 inches, but Lhermitte would eventually like to see a model that’s five meters wide in diameter and functions as an interactive exhibition at a science museum. Located at the intersection of design, technology, science, and art, the MOON’s appeal is wide reaching and flexible, which makes it well-suited for an inclusive public exhibition.

MOON in waxing crescent phase
Photos via Oscar Lhermitte