January 24, 2009

Exploring the Darkest Craters of the Moon

Among the six international payloads onboard Chandrayaan-1, India's first mission to the Moon, was a NASA radar. Called the Mini-RF synthetic aperture radar (SAR), it has sent its first images back to Earth revealing some information about two of the Moon's darkest and coldest craters.

These two craters are not the craters you can just point to with a telescope and admire. In fact, that will never be possible because these are always hidden from the Earth and never illuminated by the Sun. But the images taken on November 17, 2008 offer the first glimpse of this previously mysterious part of Earth's natural satellite. Since the craters are never lit up, radar is an ideal tool for imaging these craters. In the images taken by the radar, such as the one on the right of Seares crater, the topography of the lunar surface is revealed, with the brighter areas representing parts where the land sticks out towards the Chandrayaan-1 orbiter. The scientists working on this project hope that analysis of this data will help reveal ice deposits in the craters, where the Sun never shines.

As the image below shows, the Mini-RF SAR is really beneficial in learning more about Earth's closest neighbor. It shows what is seen with an observatory on the Earth, and how much priceless information that the radar image adds.

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Images: NASA

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