Japanese Moon Mission Returns Detailed Maps of the Lunar Surface

by Ian O'Neill on April 13, 2008

The JAXA Moon satellite Selene map of the Lunar relief (JAXA)
The Japanese SELENE lunar orbiter has returned some of the most detailed maps of the Moon to date. The new collection of high-definition maps includes topological data and mineral location. Critically, the locations of uranium, thorium and potassium have been mapped, essential for mission planners when considering the future of manned settlements on the Moon. Seeing the lunar relief mapped to such fine detail makes for an impressive sight. So far six million data points have been collected and there’s more to come…

Selene topological map of the surface of the Moon (JAXA)
The SELENE mission was launched on September 14th, 2007 from Tanegashima Space Center on a H-IIA carrier rocket. SELENE stands for “Selenological and Engineering Explorer”, but Selene was also the Greek lunar deity. The orbiter arrived into lunar orbit on October 3rd and began science operations soon after. Since then, the spacecraft has been using a large number of instruments to characterise the surface of the Moon from analysing its mineral distribution to measuring its terrain. It has been described as the largest Moon mission since the US Apollo program.
A full-disk map of the Moon (JAXA)
According to the JAXA press release, these new maps are ten-times more accurate than previous maps. Using the laser altimeter (LALT) instrument, 3D data of the shapes and altitudes of surface features are promising to give the most advanced relief mapping capabilities ever performed on a planetary body other than the Earth. It has also been indicated that deposits of uranium, potassium and thorium have been pinpointed through the use of one of its onboard spectrometers. This will have massive implications for the future of manned exploration of the natural satellite. It is likely that a nuclear source of energy would be required for future lunar settlements, if there are quantities of uranium to be mined, this will have an impact on where the settlement should be located.
SELENE relief map (colour) (JAXA)
So, when venturing out onto the cold, lonely lunar surface, be sure to pack the newest edition of the Selene high-definition map to plot your journey…

Sources: JAXA, Gizmodo


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Hello! My name is Ian O'Neill and I've been writing for the Universe Today since December 2007. I am a solar physics doctor, but my space interests are wide-ranging. Since becoming a science writer I have been drawn to the more extreme astrophysics concepts (like black hole dynamics), high energy physics (getting excited about the LHC!) and general space colonization efforts. I am also heavily involved with the Mars Homestead project (run by the Mars Foundation), an international organization to advance our settlement concepts on Mars. I also run my own space physics blog: Astroengine.com, be sure to check it out!

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