Sep 19, 2023 - Science

NASA shares unprecedented view of moon's south pole region

A composite image of the Shackleton Crater at the lunar south pole.

A composite image of the Shackleton Crater at the lunar south pole. Photo: NASA/KARI/ASU

NASA released a highly detailed photo of the interior of a large lunar crater that's permanently shadowed in the moon's south pole region on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The new mosaic, created by two different NASA cameras orbiting the moon, gives an uncanny look at terrain that could host future lunar missions.

Details: It depicts the interior of the around two-miles-deep and 12-miles-wide Shackleton Crater, which was selected as a candidate landing site for Artemis III.

  • Named after the Anglo-Irish Antarctic adventurer Ernest Shackleton, the uncharted cavity is home to extreme — but contradictory — conditions.
  • Like many other polar lunar craters, Shackleton's interior is always in the dark because the moon is slightly tilted on its axis. This also causes the peaks along the crater's rim to receive almost continuous sunlight.

How it works: The photo is the product combined imagery from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) and a new instrument called ShadowCam.

  • LROC has been gathering stunning images of the moon since 2009, but it was never designed to photograph the surfaces under permanent shadow.
  • However, ShadowCam is 200 times more light-sensitive LROC and has been gazing through the perpetual lunar darkness since being launched aboard a South Korean orbiter just over a year ago.

The big picture: Shackleton's name is apt, as scientists have for years been intrigued by the southern crater's frigidness.

  • Because its interior never receives sunlight, it's extremely cold, averaging around -297° Fahrenheit (−183 °Celsius). That's beyond cold enough to form ice and other frozen volatiles, which are thought to be held in the crater's floor.
  • The ancient materials — possibly dating back billions of years — could give researchers a glimpse into the evolution of the moon and our solar system.
  • Being comprised of hydrogen and oxygen, the ice could also be a valuable resource for rocket fuel or life support systems for astronauts.
  • One of Artemis III's goals is to journey into and explore one of the moon's cold-shadowed regions and collect samples.

Go deeper: NASA releases new UAP report, and finds no evidence of aliens

Go deeper