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Astonishing new Moon images reveal enormous crater near the Lunar South Pole

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In a breathtaking collaboration between National Geographic and NASA, the world has been treated to an unprecedented view of the lunar south pole, uncovering a massive crater that rivals the depth of the Grand Canyon. The composite image, featured in National Geographic Magazine’s special space issue released on September 19, 2023, is a result of meticulous work combining photography from two NASA cameras in orbit around the Moon.

This awe-inspiring image of the lunar south pole showcases the mysteries of Shackleton crater, which lies hidden in permanent darkness. The composite was painstakingly composed from photographs captured by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), part of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission that has been circling the Moon since June 2009. Additionally, ShadowCam, a NASA-funded instrument aboard the Korea Aerospace Research Institute’s Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO), played a crucial role. Notably, ShadowCam boasts an impressive 200 times higher sensitivity to light compared to previous lunar cameras.

The official description from NASA and National Geographic highlights the haunting beauty of Shackleton crater: “Shrouded in permanent darkness, the interior of Shackleton crater near the moon’s south pole is revealed in this stunning mosaic. The crater itself was captured by ShadowCam, a NASA instrument designed to peer into the shadowy parts of the lunar surface, orbiting the moon on the South Korean spacecraft Danuri. The surrounding areas were imaged by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera. Portions of three of the 13 potential landing regions for astronauts during Artemis 3 can be seen in this image.”

Shackleton crater, a monumental lunar feature, stretches approximately 12.4 miles wide (20 km) and plunges to depths of 2.6 miles (1.3 km), making it deeper than the Grand Canyon, as confirmed by the Center for Lunar Science and Exploration. In addition to the stunning image of Shackleton Crater, National Geographic has released a topographical map of the lunar south pole that showcases potential Artemis 3 landing sites in the region.

The Moon has captured the world’s attention recently, particularly with India’s historic Chandrayaan-3 mission, which targeted the lunar south pole. On August 23, 2023, India made history by becoming the first country to successfully land a spacecraft near the Moon’s south pole, an achievement valued at $77 million. This remarkable feat positioned India’s space program as only the fourth in history to achieve a soft lunar landing, following the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China. After conducting a two-week mission to explore the lunar vicinity and conduct experiments, the Vikram lander and Pragyan rover entered sleep mode as the sun set, with hopes of reawakening on September 22. Conversely, Russia’s recent Luna-25 mission ended in failure when its lander crashed into the lunar surface.

With both China and the United States setting their sights on sending human crews to the lunar south pole, the race to conquer this uncharted territory is well underway. China has set its target for no earlier than 2030, while NASA aims to land a crew of astronauts near the lunar south pole no earlier than 2025. This mission is expected to mark the first human presence on the Moon in over half a century.

For a more in-depth exploration of this captivating story and to view additional images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, don’t miss National Geographic’s special “Space” issue, available since September 19, 2023.

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