Scientifically speaking, where is the best place on the Moon to set up a colony for research? Hands down, it has to be the Moon’s south pole. Mountainous areas near the rim of Shackelton Crater provide areas of almost continual sunlight, meaning solar power would be constantly available. In addition, the shadowed craters are in constant darkness and may hold water ice, a potential water supply that would be a vital resource for any lunar base. Plus it would be a great place to set up a lunar telescope. Recently, three-dimensional views of this region were released by the European Space Agency, taken by the SMART-1 spacecraft, providing unprecedented details of what has been called the “Peak of Eternal Light.” Moon base designers, take a look…
This image from the Clementine mission shows seven possible colony sites on the Moon’s south pole. Circled in red the highest mountain, the so-called “Peak of Eternal Light.”
View of “Peak of Eternal Light”. The Shackleton Crater is just off the image on the right hand side. Potential landing site 4 from the Clementine mosaic is on the left hand ridge of the peak. The small crater in the centre of the image is about 1 kilometre across. Credit: ESA/SMART-1/Space-X (Space Exploration Institute)
The images were taken by the AMIE camera on board the SMART-1, which has since plunged into the moon’s surface in a planned crash in 2006. The camera team has been working with the data to create digital elevation model of the peaks.
“AMIE is not a stereo camera, so producing a 3-D model of the surface has been a challenge,” said researcher Dr. Detlef Koschny. “We’ve used a technique where we use the brightness of reflected light to determine the slope and, by comparing several images, put together a model that produces a shadow pattern that matches those observed by SMART-1.”
View of “Peak of Eternal Light” from the rim of the Shackleton Crater. The peak is along the ridge in the centre of the image. The possible landing sites 1 & 2 from the Clementine mosaic are in the bottom right hand corner of the image. Credit: ESA/SMART-1/Space-X (Space Exploration Institute)
AMIE took a total of 113 images of the peak, located close to the rim of the Shackleton Crater. The team, led by Dr Bjorn Grieger of ESA’s European Space Astronomy Centre in Madrid, took five of the best images showing the peak illuminated from different angles. They mapped all the pixels onto a grid, defining the bright and dark areas. The data from the five images were then compared to produce estimates of the slope angles and the rendered elevation model was iteratively adjusted to produce a shadow match. The original AMIE images were then projected onto the retrieved model. To clearly visualise the topography, the elevation has been exaggerated five times. Here’s the elevation map:
Digital elevation map. Credit: ESA/SMART-1/Space-X (Space Exploration Institute
By Nancy Atkinson
- Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.