The Sciences

The Land of the Rising Moon

The Japanese space agency takes a hard look at—and into—our planet's sidekick.

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Photo Credits: Text by Talia Lozipone and Shara Yurkiewicz; Image courtesy of JAXA/SELENE

This topographical map of the moon is constructed from over 6 million altitude measurements captured by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's KAYUGA lunar explorer (also known as SELENE). Apollo Missions 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 landed near the equator of the moon in part because that area was easy to land and relatively obstacle free.

The Shackleton Crater, located near the moon's South Pole, may become another important lunar site. Due to its moderate temperatures, constant sunlight, flat surfaces, and relatively plentiful resources, the crater offers a livable landscape suitable for habitation.

Elements available in the ground near the Shackleton Crater (oxygen, nitrogen, calcium, and silicon) make the area a prime location for activities like mining, masonry, and even farming--that is, if NASA follows through on the call to put a colony on the moon.

Photo Credits: Image courtesy of JAXA/SELENE Background image NASA

Just how bumpy are those lunar surfaces? JAXA (and armchair moon enthusiasts) can get a feel for the moon thanks to height profiles, like this yellow cross-section diagram of range data passing over the moon's Orientale Basin.

Orbiting at 100 kilometers above the lunar surface, KAYUGA transmits laser pulses to the moon with its laser altimeter (LALT). By measuring the timing for returned signals, it can calculate the distance between the moon's surface and the orbiter and hence, shape of the surface. The earthly landmarks Mt. Fuji and the Japan Trench are shown for comparison on the vertical axis.

This topographic map shows the Theophilus crater, located in the west side of the Mare Nectaris. The data reveals the crater's impressive features: a diameter of 100 kilometers, a rim 2,000 meters above the surface, and a depth of approximately 5,000 meters from the rim. That's about three times as deep as the Grand Canyon.

Photo Credits: Image courtesy of JAXA/SELENE

The bright colors in this moon dirt represent the volume and scattering of surface material as well as the chemical composition of matter underneath the surface. Imaged by a high-performance optical instrument on KAYUGA called the multiband imager, this photo was taken approximately 100 kilometers above the moon's surface.

The multiband imager uses two telescopes to measure mineral distribution by detecting nine different wavelengths ranging from visible to near-infrared. The tri-colored image shown above was created by applying red, green, and blue to three of the nine bands recorded.

Photo Credits: Image courtesy of JAXA/SELENE Background image NASA

This multicolored band running vertically across the moon's surface shows ion measurements gathered from Japan's Plasma energy Angle and Composition Experiment (PACE). Red areas represent places where more ions were detected.

The observation of ionic distribution and the investigation of magnetic particles on the lunar surface gives researchers information on the material that composes the moon's surface and helps elucidate the moon's interaction with solar winds.

Photo Credits: Image courtesy of JAXA/SELENE

Here radar waves from the Lunar Radar Sounder reveal structures below the surface of a moon crater called Poisson. The Lunar Radar Sounder (LRS) uses radar to measure the lunar subsurface structures and tectonic features that are up to a few kilometers in depth.

Photo Credits: Image courtesy of JAXA/SELENE

A reprise of the famous Earth rise photo snapped by the Apollo 8 crew in 1968.

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