March 15, 2017

The Moon


The MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at La Silla in Chile is a powerful instrument that can capture distant celestial objects, but it has been used here to image a heavenly body that is much closer to home: the Moon.

This image of the crescent Moon shows sunlight skimming across the heavily pocked surface, filling its craters with shadows. This is a fairly flat region of the Moon, but elsewhere, high mountains can be found, with some peaks reaching about 5000 metres. When backlit by the Sun, these mountains cast long shadows on the lunar surface. In the 1600s, Galileo Galilei used these long shadows to determine the height of the peaks.

At the Moon’s poles (not seen in this picture), some craters are permanently shadowed and the floors of some may have not seen sunlight for billions of years. Scientists had long suspected that these dark and constantly cold regions of the Moon could harbour water ice, but it wasn’t until late 2009 that evidence for this was found.

In a NASA mission called LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite), a spent rocket booster was sent on a one-way collision course to the Moon’s south pole, while the remaining part of the spacecraft hunted for evidence of water in the ejected debris. The mission was a success and its findings confirmed the presence of water ice within these dark craters. The finding has important implications for the future of human exploration of the Moon and elsewhere in the Solar System.

This view of the Moon was taken through a narrowband red filter (H-alpha). The height of the image is about 30 arcminutes.

Image Credit: ESO and Andy Strappazzon
Explanation from:

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