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Hot Topic Exploration Moon to Mars The Eternal Lunar Day
 
The Eternal Lunar Day
based on ESA report
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Moon to Mars
Posted:   04/17/05

Summary: An illuminated part of a lunar crater rim may be very close to the Moon's North pole and is a candidate for a peak of eternal sunlight. Such places could be key locations for future lunar outposts.

The Eternal Lunar Day

ion engine
Candidate for a peak of eternal light (top left), 19 January 2005
Credit: ESA


ESA's SMART-1 mission to the Moon has been monitoring the illumination of lunar poles since the beginning of 2005, about two months before arriving at its final science orbit.

Ever since, the AMIE on-board camera has been taking images which are even able to show polar areas in low illumination conditions. Images like these will help identify if peaks of eternal light exist at the poles.

SMART-1 took views of the North Polar Region from a distance of 5000 km during a pause in the spiralling descent to the science orbit. One can see highland terrains, very highly cratered due to their old age.

The rims of the large craters project very long shadows even on surrounding features. SMART-1 is monitoring the polar shadows cast during the Moon rotation, and their seasonal variations, to look for places with long-lasting illumination.

The lower image shows a 275 km area close to the North pole (upper left corner) observed by SMART-1 on 29 December 2004 from a distance of 5500 km. This shows a heavily cratered highland terrain, and is used to monitor illumination of polar areas, and long shadows cast by large crater rims.

The upper right image shows a North polar area 250 km wide observed by SMART-1 on 19 January 2005 (close to North winter solstice) from a distance of 5000 km. The illuminated part of crater rim in the very top left of the image is very close to the North pole and is a candidate for a peak of eternal sunlight.

ion engine
Close to the lunar North pole 29 December 2004.
Credit: ESA


"This shows the ability of SMART-1 and its camera to image even for low light levels at the poles and prospect for sites for future exploration", says AMIE camera Principal Investigator Jean-Luc Josset, (SPACE-X, Switzerland).

The European Space Agency's SMART missions - Small Missions for Advanced Research and Technology - are designed to test new spacecraft technology while visiting various places in the solar system. SMART-1 is now at the moon, mapping the surface mineralogy. Future missions can use the technology being tested by SMART-1 to go to Mars, Venus, Mercury, comets, and the sun.

"If we can confirm peaks of eternal light", adds Bernard Foing, SMART-1 Project Scientist, "these could be a key locations for possible future lunar outposts".

smart solar
Electrical solar energy for SMART probe.
Credit: ESA


The existence of peaks of eternal light at the poles, that is areas that remain eternally illuminated regardless of seasonal variations, was first predicted in the second half of the nineteenth century by the astronomer Camille Flammarion.

Even if for most of the Moon the length of the day does not vary perceptibly during the course of seasons, this is not the case over the poles, where illumination can vary extensively during the course of the year. The less favorable illumination conditions occur around the northern winter solstice, around 24 January.

There are areas at the bottom of near-polar craters that do not see direct sunshine, where ice might potentially be trapped. Also there are areas at higher elevation on the rim of polar craters that see the Sun more than half of the time. Eventually, there may be areas that are always illuminated by sunlight.

Recent Lunar Timelines

1990
- Japanese Hiten, Lunar Flyby and Orbiter
1994
- Michael Rampino and Richard Strothers propose Earth could be periodically struck by comets dislodged from orbits when the solar system passes through galactic plane
- US Dept. Defense/NASA Clementine mission, Lunar Orbiter/Attempted Asteroid Flyby
1997
- First commercial lunar mission, AsiaSat 3/HGS-1 , Lunar Flyby
1998
- Lunar Prospector launches and enters lunar orbit
1999
- Lunar Prospector tries to detect water on the Moon (polar impact)
2001
- Lunar soil samples and computer models by Robin Canup and Erik Asphaug support impact origin of moon

ion engine
Mosaic of lunar images from SMART-1. Moon image using AMIE's clear filter
Credit: ESA


2003
- SMART 1, launched lunar orbiter and test solar-powered ion drive for deep space missions
2005
- Japanese Lunar-A, Lunar Mapping Orbiter and Penetrator, to fire two bullets 3 meters into the lunar soil near Apollo 12 and 14 sites
2006
- Japanese SELENE Lunar Orbiter and Lander, to probe the origin and evolution of the moon

 

 

 

 


Future missions that will rely on technologies we are now testing with SMART-1 include the BepiColombo mission to Mercury and the Solar Orbiter, which will study the sun close-up.

Related Web Pages

ESA
Lunar Prospector
SMART 1
Clementine
Impact origin of moon
Review of Theories of Moon-Forming Impact (Planetary Science Institute)
Moon Meteor Truly Extraterrestrial
Moon Written in Stone
SMART-1: Chips Off the Terrestrial Block
Treasures from the Lunar Attic
Lunar Scarface
End of an Era, Dawn of Another?
Making the Moon


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