LROC and ShadowCam collaboratively reveal the Shackleton Crater mosaic, providing unparalleled insights into the lunar South Pole and its potential icy deposits, aiding future lunar exploration missions.
A new mosaic of Shackleton Crater showcases the powerful synergy between two lunar-orbiting cameras working together to reveal unprecedented details of the lunar south pole region.
This mosaic was created using photographs he obtained LROC (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera)which has been operating since 2009, and from ShadowCam, a NASA An instrument on board the Kari (Korea Aerospace Research Institute) spacecraft called Danori, which Launched In August 2022. ShadowCam was developed by Malin Space Science Systems and Arizona State University.
Complementary capabilities of LROC and ShadowCam
LROC can take detailed images of the Moon’s surface but is limited in its ability to image the shadowed parts of the Moon that never receive direct sunlight, known as permanently shadowed areas. The ShadowCam is 200 times more sensitive to light than LROC and can operate successfully in these extremely low light conditions. Revealing features and details terrain not visible to LROC. ShadowCam relies on sunlight reflecting off lunar or Earth geological features to capture images in the shadows.
However, the ShadowCam’s sensitivity to light makes it unable to capture images of directly lit parts of the Moon, resulting in saturated results. With each camera optimized for the specific lighting conditions found near the lunar poles, analysts can combine images from both instruments to create a comprehensive visual map of the terrain and geological features of both the brightest and darkest parts of the Moon. Permanently shaded areas in this mosaic, such as the interior floor and walls of Shackleton Crater, are visible in such detail due to images from ShadowCam. In contrast, the sunlit areas in this mosaic, such as the rim and sides of the crater, are the product of images collected by LROC.
Scientific and exploratory effects
Using ShadowCam, NASA can image the permanently shadowed areas of the Moon in greater detail than was previously possible, giving scientists a much better view of the Moon’s south pole region. This area has never been explored by humans and is of great interest to science and exploration because it is believed to contain glacial deposits or other frozen volatiles. Scientists believe that layers of icy deposits have been present on the Moon for millions or billions of years, and being able to study samples could enhance our understanding of how the Moon and our solar system evolved. Icy deposits could also be an important resource for exploration because they consist of hydrogen and oxygen that can be used as rocket fuel or life support systems.
A more complete map of the lunar South Pole region is valuable for future surface exploration endeavors, such as the VIPER (Volatile Polar Exploration Probe) and Artemis missions, which will return humans to the lunar surface and establish a long-term presence on the Moon.
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) is a system of cameras aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft. Launched in 2009, LROC is designed to capture high-resolution images of the lunar surface. Its primary purpose is to help locate safe landing sites, identify potential resources, study the lunar environment, and demonstrate new technology. Detailed images from LROC have provided invaluable insights into the Moon’s topography and geology, and have aided numerous scientific and exploratory missions.
ShadowCam is a highly light-sensitive camera instrument on board the KARI (Korea Aerospace Research Institute) spacecraft, Danori. Developed by Malin Space Science Systems and Arizona State University for NASA, it was specifically designed to capture images of permanently shaded areas of the Moon, areas that never receive direct sunlight. Able to operate successfully in extremely low-light conditions, ShadowCam takes advantage of sunlight reflecting off lunar or Earth geological features to image features and terrain details that other instruments, such as LROC, cannot see. Launched in August 2022, it complements other lunar imaging systems by revealing details in the moon’s darkest regions.
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