On the Rim!

Shackleton crater rim
Spectacular oblique view of the rim of Shackleton crater (21 km diameter, 89.66°S, 129.20°E). While no location on the Moon stays continuously illuminated, three points on the rim remain collectively sunlit for more than 90% of the year. These points are surrounded by topographic depressions that never receive sunlight, creating cold traps that can capture ices, NAC M1224655261LR [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

The spin axis of the Moon is titled less than two degrees, thus the lighting conditions at the poles are always extreme. The long deep shadows give the impression that the polar regions are unusually rough and thus dangerous. However, the topography is no different than that found near the equator, so polar landings should be relatively safe, even in permanently shadowed regions (PSRs), if the spacecraft is equipped with active landing sensors (lidar or radar). The permanent shadows are formed by topographic highs, and even though these high points are often narrow, they are very inviting landing spots because many are illuminated for most of the lunar year. Future surface missions to the lunar poles will likely utilize these highly illuminated regions, where solar power is abundant, as jumping off points to determine what volatiles (water ice, methane, etc.) PSRs may hold, and how these volatiles can be utilized as resources for future human exploration. For now, you can explore the high-resolution oblique view of the illuminated rim of Shackleton crater near the South Pole, below.



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Published by Mark Robinson on 1 February 2018