A lunar mountain's eternally sunny disposition

Contributed by
Sep 25, 2008

At the south pole of the Moon is a remarkable place. Shackleton crater, 19 km across, sits almost exactly at the equivalent of 90 degrees south latitude on the Moon. Parts of its rim stick up so high that, for them, the sun never sets. It's up over the horizon (though very low) all day, every day.

The sunny mountain is on the right.

Near that crater is a peak that shares this characteristic. If you camped at the apex -- better bring some air and a refrigerator -- it would never be night.

We've seen these features due to many probes orbiting the Moon and taking data, But now, for the first time, we have a 3D map of that area thanks to the AMIE (Advanced Moon micro-Imager Experiment) camera on SMART-1, a European lunar orbiter (the name comes from it being the first of the series of Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology). AMIE wasn't designed as a stereo camera, so what scientists did was to map the reflectivity of the moonscape and then, using the Sun angle, determine the slope of the area. Each pixel on the camera maps to an area about 50 meters across on the Moon, so they got a topological map of the lunar south pole that is too rough to land a human there, but still provides an excellent guide to the local scenery.

The simulated moonscape is in the picture above, and they created a topo map as well. Pretty cool! And useful, too: eventually, we may pack that peak with solar power panels, taking advantage of the eternal sunshine there to create energy for a lunar base... what I hope will eventually be a lunar colony.

Were taking the first steps here, the first real steps. Apollo showed us we could do it, and now our robotic proxies are mapping the way.

Take a look at that picture. We're standing at the trailhead, looking own the path. It's time to see where it leads.

Image credits: ESA/SMART-1/Space-X (Space Exploration Institute)

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