The sun is just above the horizon, and the high mountains cast dark shadows. Craters are a haven of endless darkness, and some depths are cut off from sunlight for billions of years.
In these regions, temperatures drop to Minimum down to -248ºC because there is no atmosphere on the moon to heat the surface.
Not a single person has set foot in this completely unknown world.
He south pole of the moonaccording to NASA, is full of “mystery, science and intrigue.”
Not surprisingly, there is a space race to reach this area away from the Apollo moon landing sites, which are centered on the moon’s equator.
Looking for water at the south pole of the moon
India also plans a joint mission in 2026 Lunar polar exploration (Lupex) with Japan to explore areas of the “dark side of the moon”.
Why is the South Pole of the Moon becoming an attractive scientific destination? Experts say water is one of the keys.
Data collected by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a NASA spacecraft that has been orbiting the Moon for 14 years, suggests that some large craters have ice isolated from light that could potentially supply people in the future.
Water only exists in solid or gaseous form due to the vacuum on the Moon, which lacks gravity to sustain an atmosphere. The Indian lunar mission Chandrayaan 1 was the first to detect traces of water on a satellite in 2008.
“It has not yet been proven that this ice is available or can be mined. In other words, are there any reserves of water that can be extracted economically?” says Clive Neal, professor of planetary geology at the University of Notre Dame in the United States.
For scientists, the prospect of finding water on the Moon is reassuring in many ways.
Frozen water, not polluted by solar radiation, could stick together over millions of years in cold polar regions, causing ice to form on or near the surface.
This will provide scientists with a unique sample from which to analyze and understand the history of water in our solar system.
“We can deal with issues such as when did water appear, where did it come from and what is its significance for the evolution of life on Earth,” explains Simeon Barber, a planetary scientist at the UK Open University who also works with the European Space Agency.
one million per kilogram
There are other, more “pragmatic” reasons for accessing water on or just below the Moon’s surface, Professor Barber said.
Many countries are planning new manned missions to the Moon, and astronauts will need water for drinking and sanitation.
Transporting materials from the Earth to the Moon requires overcoming the Earth’s gravitational pull. To have more weight requires more fuel and more powerful rockets to successfully land on the moon. New commercial space companies charge about US$1 million to carry a kilogram of payload to the moon.
“That’s $1 million per liter of drinking water! Space entrepreneurs certainly see lunar ice as an opportunity to supply astronauts with water from local sources,” says Professor Barber.
And that is not all. Water molecules can be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen atoms, which are used as rocket fuel.
But first, scientists need to know how much ice is on the Moon, in what forms, and whether it can be efficiently extracted and purified to make drinking water.
On the other hand, some areas of the south pole of the moon receive sunlight for an extended period of time, up to 200 Earth days of constant illumination.
“Solar energy is another potential resource “Which has a pole” to build a lunar base and power equipment, says Noah Petro, a NASA scientist.
Space Race to the Moon’s South Pole
The Moon’s south pole is also on the edge of a massive impact crater. WITH 2500 km in diameter and up to 8 km deep., this huge hole is one of the oldest in the solar system. “By landing at the pole, you can begin to understand the size of this large crater,” Petro says.
Pole navigation with lunar rovers, space suits, and research instruments in a different light and thermal environment than previously explored equatorial regions also promises to provide valuable information.
However, scientists are reluctant to call it a race to the south pole.
“These missions have been in preparation for decades and have been delayed many times. This run is not critical to our understanding of the Moon. The last time there was a real space race, we lost interest. on the Moon three years later, and we haven’t returned to its surface for five decades,” says Vishnu Reddy, professor of planetary science at the University of Arizona.
The Indian and Russian missions also had some common goals, the scientists note.
Both set the goal of landing a spacecraft of the same size in the south polar region, south of the equator than any previous lunar mission.
After a failed landing attempt in 2019, India will try to demonstrate its ability to deliver a spacecraft to the Moon’s polar zone.
He is also directed explore the satellite’s exosphere – an extremely thin atmosphere – and analyze polar regolith, deposits of loose particles and dust accumulated over billions of years and resting on rocks.
The mission “Luna-25” has among its tasks the analysis of the composition of the polar regolith, as well as the elements of plasma and dust of the exosphere of the lunar pole.
The Indian orbiter’s landing site is undoubtedly “a little far from the actual pole,” although the data it will provide “will be exciting,” Prof Neil predicts.
Russia and China are planning to build a lunar space station establish research centers on the surface of the moonin orbit, or both.
Russia is planning new missions to the moon, and NASA is sending materials on commercial landers.
Japan, for its part, is preparing to send the Intelligent Lander Module (SLIM mission) on August 26, a small mission to test the precise methods of landing a small rover on the Moon.
And, of course, NASA’s Artemis program aims to return astronauts to the Moon through a series of spaceflights, more than half a century after the last Apollo mission.
For Petro, Luna “is like a giant puzzle. We have some snippets based on samples and data from lunar meteorites. We have a picture of what the Moon looks like, but it’s incomplete.”
“The moon continues to surprise us,” he says.
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