February 1, 2023

Taylor Daily Press

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What does the permanent shadow on the moon hide? We finally know (at least for such a shade)!

Using an advanced ShadowCam, researchers have been able to image the enigmatic Shackleton Crater, the crater floor of which was not seen until recently.

As you know, the Moon’s axis of rotation is tilted by only 1.5 degrees, so our natural satellite rarely has any seasons. At the same time, this means that the sun near the poles is always over the horizon, so that certain areas there never receive direct sunlight. These places are known as “permanently shaded areas” and, as you can imagine, are very difficult to photograph in detail. But thanks to the cutting-edge ShadowCam instrument, researchers are slowly but surely beginning to understand these dark, unexplored corners of the moon.

ShadowCam
Shadowcam is a NASA-funded aboard instrument South Korean Lunar Orbiter Danorialso known as Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO). The orbiter was launched in August last year and reached lunar orbit in December. A huge milestone and that makes South Korea’s space agency – after the space agencies of Russia, the United States, Japan, China, India and Europe – the seventh government space agency to send a probe to the moon. One of ShadowCam’s primary purposes is to provide detailed images of places where the sun never rises.

Stunning photos
The South Koreans have now succeeded with flying colours. South Korea’s first mission has now provided a stunning image of the enigmatic Shackleton Crater, an impact crater located at the moon’s south pole. The permanently shadowed crater floor has never been seen before and is now beautifully captured on image for the first time.

This beautiful first image from ShadowCam reveals the permanently shaded wall and floor of Shackleton Crater in unprecedented detail. The arrow indicates the path left by a rolling rock. The picture shows an area of ​​2040 square meters. NASA/CARE/Arizona State University

The photo can be seen above. The upper part of the image shows the base of a steep wall, while the rest of the image shows the crater floor. The thin line running down from the top is a trail behind which a 16-foot (5 m) rolling boulder slumped down the steeply sloping crater wall.

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unique?
The picture is a great work of art. But whether the crater is so unique? not this. As the images show, the interior of Shackleton Crater looks no different from the normally lit craters found elsewhere on the Moon. Moreover, the impacts of rocks rolling on the moon aren’t really that rare either.

water ice
However, the image is of great value. This is because the researchers suspect that ice can be found in the deep, permanently shadowed craters. This will be good news for the future lunar colonists, who, of course, cannot do without water. In addition, water ice can also be a source of oxygen. It can even be used to power rockets, saving travelers to the Moon from having to carry fuel for the return trip on future missions. As you can see, there are quite a few applications for water ice expected to be found in these craters.

No icing is observed
Unfortunately, there are no ice crystals in the image of Shackleton’s inner crater. By the way, this is not surprising. Because of its relatively small size, most of the area shown in the image becomes too warm for ice to form. This means that this place could be crossed off the map for future lunar colonists, although the researchers do not rule out the possibility that the ice is located elsewhere in the crater, where temperatures are lower.

comparison
By the way, this is not the first time that the mysterious Shackleton crater has been photographed. Successful ventured before Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (ShadowCam’s big brother, aboard NASA Lunar reconnaissance vehicle) frantic effort.

Shackleton crater image taken by LROC. Image: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Like ShadowCan, LROC aims to image permanently shaded areas on the moon. But as you can see above, ShadowCam is a little better at it. The image shows the crater’s illuminated rim, but the crater’s floor is still jet black. Incidentally, ShadowCam is 200 times more sensitive than its predecessor, which makes it uniquely specialized in capturing fine details in shaded areas.

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The beautiful picture from ShadowCam is just a harbinger of things to come. As the Danuri mission progresses, the advanced camera will image all permanently shaded areas on the moon, with a resolution of 2 meters per pixel. The researchers hope to find frost or ice in this way, which, as mentioned, is very important for future manned missions to our natural satellite. The data ShadowCam collects is therefore invaluable to NASA when selecting future landing sites.