NASA released new images Wednesday of the moon's south pole region, a potential landing spot for humans or robotic lunar missions, demonstrating the surface is rockier than previously thought and has peaks as high as 2.5 miles along with deep craters.
Using an Earth-based radar system in California's Mojave Desert, the U.S. space agency collected the data on the moon's south pole, produced by its Goldstone Solar System Radar, located in the Mojave Desert of California. The images are 50 times more detailed than the last version which was created with data from the Clementine spacecraft in 1994.
NASA looked at an area around Shackleton Crater, with some terrain in perpetual darkness and other areas in the sunlight. In detail of 215 square feet (20 square meters) per pixel, the map shows craters four times deeper than the Grand Canyon and hundreds of miles wide. Some of the crater sides slant at 35 degree angles, making the terrain look more rugged compared with earlier data.
It has some of the most incredible topography in the entire solar system, said Eric de Jong, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. Jong and others announced the new map from the third Space Exploration Conference in Denver.
We now know the south pole has peaks as high as Mount McKinley and crater floors four times deeper than the Grand Canyon, said Doug Cooke, a deputy associate administrator at NASA.
The new data is not scaring us away, he said, adding: It's intriguing. It's just enhanced our understanding of it.
It really calls on us to rise to the challenge of getting there, rather than having engineering constraints limit us, added NASA lunar program scientist Kelly Snook.
Scientists obtained the data by targeting the region three times during a six-month period in 2006, using Goldstone's 230-foot radar dish, sending a 500-kilowatt strong, 90-minute long radar stream 231,800 miles to the moon.
NASA said the radar would bounce off lunar terrain over an area measuring about 400 miles by 250 miles and the signals were reflected back to two antennas on Earth in about 2 1/2 seconds.