Moon’s Shadowed Craters Reveal Possible Pockets of Water Ice
NASA’s ShadowCam has been flying around the Moon for nearly six months, strapped to a Korean lunar orbiter. The hypersensitive camera has been capturing beautifully detailed images of the Moon’s permanently shadowed regions, offering a rare glimpse of potential landing sites for upcoming crewed Artemis missions to the lunar surface.
China’s Plan to Land Astronauts on the Moon
Some parts of the Moon have been cloaked in darkness for more than two billion years, never seeing the light of the Sun. Those areas happen to be of great interest to scientists, who suspect that ice water may be hidden in pockets across the Moon’s north and south pole regions. That’s why NASA plans on landing its Artemis astronauts on the Moon’s permanently shadowed regions, hoping they’ll be able to take advantage of the lunar resources to establish a sustainable presence up there.
As you may have guessed, it is hard to see into the dark craters of the Moon. But thankfully NASA’s hypersensitive optical camera ShadowCam, which launched in December 2022 on board the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, has been able to get unprecedented views of the hidden lunar terrain. The space agency recently released five images of the Moon’s north and south pole regions, which capture the haunting beauty of its rough surface.
ShadowCam is capable of operating in extremely low light as the camera is significantly more light sensitive than other imaging instruments. The above image is one of the first ever taken by ShadowCam, displaying the shadowed wall and floor of Shackleton crater near the Moon’s south pole. At the very top of the above image is a slight crack in the surface (annotated by a white arrow) showing the track of a boulder that rolled down the crater wall, according to NASA.
The image above was captured just after a new Moon, when our view of the satellite from Earth appears as a thin crescent in the night skies. During a new Moon, light from Earth illuminates the nightside of the Moon, a phenomenon known as earthshine.
That faint glow is what helped ShadowCam capture the above image of a small impact crater in the Moon’s equatorial region as part of an instrument sensitivity test. “It reveals the interior of Bruce crater and bright streamers that formed from soil sliding down the crater’s walls,” NASA wrote.
Another crater took center stage in the image above, revealing its bumpy surface in closer detail. ShadowCam captured this view of Marvin crater while relying on sunlight reflected off of nearby mountains and crater walls, showing the rim of the crater about 16 miles (26 kilometers) from the lunar south pole.
ShadowCam snapped another picture of the Marvin crater, named after planetary geologist Ursula Marvin, from a wider angle to reveal more of the crater’s surrounding area. The overexposed area on the left side is where parts of the lunar surface are under direct sunlight, while the permanently shadowed region of the crater itself appears to the right.
Another beautiful shot of the Moon’s shadowed surface shows the central peak of Aristarchus crater. The image, shown above, was captured using earthshine, the result of Earth being 35 degrees above the horizon at the time, explained NASA.
ShadowCam’s dispatch of images not only reveal the subtle allure of the Moon’s hidden regions—it will also help NASA prepare for its astronauts’ upcoming trips to the lunar surface, where they’re hoping to retrieve that oh-so-precious water ice.
For more spaceflight in your life, follow us on Twitter and bookmark Gizmodo’s dedicated Spaceflight page.