The sun stays slightly above or just below the horizon while towering mountains cast dark shadows.
Deep craters offer refuge from the endless darkness. Some of these areas have been shielded from sunlight for billions of years. In these regions, temperatures plummet to a staggering low of -248°C (-414°F) because the moon lacks an atmosphere to warm the surface. No human has ever set foot in this totally unexplored world.
The moon's south pole is steeped in "mysteries, science, and intrigue," according to NASA.
It is therefore not surprising that there is a so-called space race to reach the south pole of the moon, away from the Apollo landing sites around the equator.
On Wednesday, India landed a robotic probe, Chandrayaan-3, near the South Pole. Three days earlier, the Russian Luna-25The holes are closedwhile attempting the same feat.
India is also planning a joint initiativeMondpolarforschung(Lupex) mission with Japan to explore the shadow regions or "dark side of the moon" by 2026.
Why is the South Pole becoming an attractive scientific destination? Scientists say the main reason is water.
data collected fromLunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a NASA spacecraft that has been orbiting the Moon for 14 years, suggests that some of the large, permanently shadowed craters may have water ice that could potentially feed humanity.
Because of the vacuum, water on the moon exists as a solid or vapor: the moon doesn't have enough gravity to contain an atmosphere. India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar mission in 2008 was the first to find evidence of water on the moon.
“Cold water has yet to prove itself accessible or usable. In other words, are there water reserves that can be economically extracted?” Clive Neal, a professor of planetary geology at the American University of Notre Dame, told me.
The prospect of finding water on the moon is exciting in many ways, scientists say.
In the cold polar regions, frozen water uncontaminated by solar radiation may have accumulated over millions of years, causing ice to accumulate at or near the surface. This offers scientists a unique window to analyze and understand the history of water in our solar system.
"We can look at questions like where and when water came from and what impact that has on the evolution of life on Earth," says Simeon Barber, a planetary scientist at the UK Open University who also works with the Space Agency . European. Agency.
There are other "pragmatic" reasons for accessing water on or just below the lunar surface, Professor Barber says.
Many countries are planning new manned missions to the moon, and astronauts will need water to drink and sanitation.
When transporting equipment from the earth to the moon, the gravitational pull of the earth must be overcome. The bigger the team, the more rockets and payload fuel are needed for a successful moon landing. New commercial space companies are asking about $1 million to get a kilogram of payload to the moon.
“That equates to $1 million per liter of fresh water! Space entrepreneurs certainly see the lunar ice as an opportunity to supply astronauts with water from the region,” says Professor Barber.
That's not all. Water molecules can be split into hydrogen and oxygen atoms, both of which can be used as fuels to launch rockets. But first, scientists need to know how much ice there is on the moon, what form it takes, and whether it can be efficiently extracted and cleaned to make it drinkable.
Additionally, some extremes at the South Pole are bathed in sunlight for extended periods, constantly illuminated for up to 200 Earth days. "Solar energy is another potential resource the pole has [to build a lunar base and electrical equipment]," says Noah Petro, project scientist at NASA.
The lunar south pole is also on the edge of a huge impact crater in the solar system. With a diameter of 2,500 km (1,600 miles) and a depth of up to 8 km, this crater is one of the oldest formations in the solar system. "When you land on the pole, you can start to understand what's going on in this big crater," says Dr. Petro.
Navigating the lunar pole with rovers, space suits and sampling devices in a bright and thermal environment markedly different from previously explored equatorial locations also promises to yield valuable information.
However, scientists are reluctant to call this a race to the South Pole.
“These missions have been planned for decades and have been delayed many times. Race is not critical to our understanding of the moon. "NO. We did. It came back to the surface after 50 years," says Vishnu Reddy, professor of planetary sciences at the University of Arizona.
Scholars point out that the Indian and Russian missions also had some common goals.
Both had intentions of landing similar-sized spacecraft in the south polar region, farther south of the equator than any previous lunar mission.
After a failed landing attempt in 2019, India wanted to demonstrate its ability to perform a precise lunar landing near the pole. It will also study the moon's exosphere - an extremely thin atmosphere - and analyze polar regolith, a collection of loose particles and dust that rests on rocks accumulated over billions of years.
Luna-25's goals included analyzing the composition of polar regolith and studying the plasma and dust elements of the lunar pole exosphere.
In fact, the Indian orbiter's landing pad is "a bit far from the actual pole." "But the data that will be provided will be fascinating," says Professor Neal.
Russia and China plan to build oneMondraumstationDevelop research facilities on the lunar surface, in orbit, or both. Russia plans more missions to the moon. NASA is sending instruments on commercial probes to locations on the far side of the moon. Japan is preparing to send oneIntelligent Landemodul(the SLIM mission) on August 26: A small mission to demonstrate precise lunar landing techniques by a small rover.
And of course those of NASA.Artemis programintends to return astronauts to the moon in a series of spaceflights more than half a century after the last Apollo mission.
“The moon is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. We have some pieces, the rough edges, based on samples and data from lunar meteorites. We have a picture of what the moon looks like, but it's incomplete," says Dr.
"The moon still surprises us."
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