NASA’s Lunar Camera on South Korean Probe Peeks Where the Sun Doesn’t Shine

South Korea’s first lunar mission has delivered a stunning first image from a camera designed to look at permanently shadowed areas near the lunar poles.

The NASA-funded ShadowCam camera is designed to reveal areas where the sun never shines on the Moon to aid future research efforts and has now demonstrated unprecedented insight into Shackleton Crater at the Moon’s south pole.

ShadowCam operates aboard the Danuri, also known as the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO). It is one of six scientific payloads aboard Danuri, which launched back in August 2022 and arrived in lunar orbit in mid-December. The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) has already published the first images of Danuri from lunar orbit, and now ShadowCam is showing off its capabilities with an incredible test image of a permanently shadowed area 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 bottom fifths show the crater floor. At the top, a boulder track about 16 feet (5 meters) in diameter is visible, which rolled down the crater wall.

“ShadowCam shows the inside but not the edges because the detector is so sensitive that it saturates whenever you look at an area directly illuminated by sunlight,” Mark Robinson of Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Science said in a statement.

In this annotated version of the image, an arrow indicates the path of a 16-foot (5-meter) diameter boulder that rolled down the steeply sloping crater wall and came to rest at the bottom. (Image credit: NASA/CARI/Arizona State University)

ShadowCam is based on cameras aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been operational since 2009 but provides unparalleled views of permanently shadowed areas, or PSRs.

The Moon, unlike the Earth, has only a slight axial tilt, meaning that some areas never receive direct sunlight. ShadowCam’s high sensitivity means it can detect dimly reflected light from nearby objects and provide never-before-seen views of permanently dark areas.

The camera will be used to image permanently shadowed areas of the Moon at better than 6.6 feet (2 meters) per pixel and provide mapping for use on future ground missions such as NASA’s VIPER to search for volatiles, elements, or substances with low boiling points. such as water, hydrogen or helium.

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