An instrument called ShadowCam is giving NASA’s planned Artemis missions to the Moon some enhanced views of a landing site. It is mounted on the Danuri Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, which was sent to the moon last year. Recently, this amazing camera has been sending back some highly detailed images of the moon’s north and south polar regions.
A look goes into the deeply shadowed Shackleton Crater. It shows the trail of a boulder that slid off the edge. This impact crater lies exactly on the southern rotation pole of the moon. It dates back to an ancient impact about 3.6 billion years ago. Shackleton’s 12-kilometer-deep interior lies in perpetual shadow. That means the sun never shines in. However, the mountains on its edge are always in the sunlight.
This is a crop of one of ShadowCam’s first images from lunar orbit of the wall and floor of Shackleton Crater, located near the South Pole. The arrow marks the trail of a boulder that rolled down the crater wall. Observing these trails helps scientists characterize boulder shape and velocity, as well as regolith features, and advances our understanding of the Moon’s geotechnical properties. The path is several hundred meters long. Courtesy: NASA/KARI/ASU
The ShadowCam is 200 times more sensitive to light than most other cameras used to study and map the Moon from orbit. Its high-resolution images will provide a wealth of information for Artemis mission planners.
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ShadowCam can see pretty well into Shackleton and other craters thanks to Earthshine. It also uses light reflected from nearby mountains and crater walls that receive direct sunlight. Some of ShadowCam’s images were taken during the new moon, when sunlight shining off the surface of the earth reaches the moon. These “reflected light sources” aren’t bright, but ShadowCam was able to detect them.
Shackleton: One of the fascinating lunar craters
NASA and other agencies that land astronauts on the moon want to explore the polar region of Shackleton Crater because there’s a good chance it contains deposits of water ice. Over the years, lunar orbiters have studied and mapped this region. They studied the radiation regime and the physical properties of the rocks and craters there. There appears to be an abundance of hydrogen, oxygen, silicon, iron, magnesium, calcium, aluminum, manganese, and titanium in the area.
Aristarchus Crater as seen in earthshine during the New Moon. It is very possible that astronauts can only find their way on the surface by the light of earthshine. Photo credit: NASA/KARI/ASU
Future explorers could locate resource processing facilities in the region to mine materials needed for construction and other activities. In addition, thanks to its constant shading, this region offers a great place for astronomical observations in the future. All of this activity takes place further down, after Artemis III has landed its astronauts on the surface. Their first mission will last only a few days, long enough to begin an in-depth study of this fascinating area of the moon.
The Artemis mission plans cover a variety of bases, from opportunities for scientific discovery and economic benefits, but also because new generations of explorers will return to the moon more than half a century after the last ones left. The Artemis missions are part of an international collaboration involving NASA, Canada, ESA and others. Not to be outdone, the China National Space Administration has also set its sights on the moon. They recently announced missions that could take their first discoverers to the lunar surface later this decade.
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NASA’s ShadowCam photographs the moon’s south polar region
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