South Korea’s first lunar mission has delivered a stunning first image from a camera designed to peer into permanently shadowed areas near the lunar poles.
Intended to show regions where the sun never shines on the moon to aid future exploration efforts, the NASA-funded ShadowCam has now revealed an unprecedented view of Shackleton Crater at the moon’s south pole.
ShadowCam is operational onboard Danuri, also known as the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO). It is one of six science payloads aboard Danuri, which was launched back in August 2022 and arrived in lunar orbit in mid-December. The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) has already published Danuris first pictures from lunar orbit, and now ShadowCam is showing off their skills with an incredible test image of a permanently shadowed region in Shackleton Crater.
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The top fifth of the image shows the base of the steep wall of Shackleton Crater, while the lower parts show the crater floor. Above is the trail of a boulder about 5 meters in diameter that rolled down the crater wall.
“ShadowCam reveals the interior but nothing from the edge because the detector is so sensitive that it saturates when looking at terrain directly lit by sunlight,” said Mark Robinson of Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration in the US Explanation.
ShadowCam builds on the cameras aboard NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiters which has been operational since 2009 but offers unprecedented views of permanently shadowed regions, or PSRs.
The Moon has little axial tilt, unlike Earth, meaning some areas never get direct sunlight. ShadowCam’s high sensitivity means it can detect light weakly reflected from nearby features, providing never-before-seen insight into perpetually dark areas.
The camera will be used to image the moon’s permanently shadowed regions at better than 6.6 feet (2 meters) per pixel resolution and provide mapping for future surface missions such as NASA’s VIPER to look for volatiles, elements, or substances with low boiling points such as water, hydrogen, or helium.
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