Santa Spied at Lunar North Pole…

Article written: 23 Dec , 2009
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
by

Only one more day left until Christmas Eve, and astronomers have just discovered a unique feature on the lunar surface. Although accepted for many years to be a natural feature of selenography, modern astrophotography coupled with today’s high-powered telescopes have discovered an area near the lunar North Pole that’s apparently being used as a runway by a man in a red suit piloting an unusual spacecraft…

Be sure to spark the imaginations in your young viewers (or simply enjoy the holiday smile) as you show them the Alpine Valley!

Tonight’s outstanding feature will be the lunar Vallis Alpes. Located near the terminator in the lunar “North Pole”, this wonderful gash in the landscape very conspicuously cuts across the lunar Alps just west of crater Aristotle. As you view this 180 km long and (at points) less than 1 km wide feature, ask yourself how it was formed. While it looks very artificial with limited aperture and possibly like it could have been formed by a glancing blow from a small asteroid, it’s actually a volcanic/tectonic feature called a sinuous rille.

vallis_alpes_diets

If Santa were to look up along the southeast side of the Alpine Valley, he’d see a very tall linear cliff that’s slightly concave – like an amphitheater. To the northwest would be a small series of hills leading up the the grand lunar Alps. To the south would be another curved mountain ring about 16 or 17 miles in length, and from 3 to 4 miles in width. This forms the gorge, bordered on the east by sheer vertical cliffs, towering thousands of feet above the bottom of the valley. The valley floor is a flat, lava-flooded surface that is divided by a slender, cleft-like rille. Chances are this “little runway” was once a graben that which was flooded with magma.

But tonight? It’s the most special place not on Earth!

Many thanks to Wes Higgins for the holiday smiles and to Dietmar Hager for his equally splendid lunar photography.


8 Responses

  1. Vanamonde says

    So what the latest on the lunar composition? Cheddar, Gouda, Brie or what?

  2. Aodhhan says

    He has to have his warehouse of toys somewhere…away from people who would peek!

  3. paul.swanson says

    @Vanamonde:

    Wensleydale, perhaps? Rent a copy of Wallace and Gromit’s “A Grand Day Out” — you won’t be disappointed!

  4. William928 says

    @Tammy, Ian, Nancy, Frasier, and any other UT contributors I’ve forgotten: I wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and Happy and productive New Year. Thanks for all your contributions with respect to science in general and astronomy in particular. I enjoy the site and the articles immensely.

    Cheers, Bill

  5. Member

    i’ve had Wensleydale i personally made into welsh rarebit and it rocks!

    and i’m also quite strange enough to really like wallace and gromit, too!

    and vegemite… 😉

  6. Underlings says

    Hey, you didn’t have to add the sleigh and reindeer to get the Santa shot. Just look about 1/4″ under the word “Clear” in the first picture. Looks like Santa (okay, or maybe an elf) to me….

  7. Underlings says

    <>

    What about Venezuelan beaver cheese?

    (Python reference….)

  8. Jon Hanford says

    It appears that Santa is on the move. Recent LRO imagery puts St. Nick closer to Fra Mauro, suspiciously near the Apollo 14 landing site ( http://skyalert.org/event/14724/ ). Maybe he’s picking up some stocking stuffers for the ISS. 🙂

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