The sun is still just above or below the horizon, while towering mountains cast dark shadows.
Deep craters provide shelter from endless darkness. Some of these areas have been shielded from sunlight for billions of years. In these regions, temperatures plummet to astonishing lows of -414°F (-248°C) because the moon has no atmosphere to warm its surface. No one has set foot in this completely unexplored world.
According to NASA, the lunar south pole is full of "mystery, science and intrigue".
It's no surprise, then, that there was a so-called space race to get to the south pole of the Moon, away from the Apollo landing sites clustered around the equator.
India landed a robotic probe called Chandrayaan-3 near the South Pole on Wednesday. Three days ago, Russia's Luna-25fall into the moonwhile attempting the same feat.
India is also planning a joint initiativelunar polar exploration(Lupex) and Japan are on a mission to explore the shadowed region, or "dark side of the moon," by 2026.
Why is Antarctica an attractive science destination? A key reason, scientists say, is water.
collected dataLunar Reconnaissance OrbiterA NASA spacecraft that has orbited the moon for 14 years has shown the presence of water ice in some large, permanently shadowed craters that may support humans.
Water exists as a solid or a vapor on the Moon due to the vacuum: the Moon doesn't have enough gravity to hold an atmosphere. In 2008, India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar exploration mission found the first evidence of water on the moon.
"Water ice has not been proven to be accessible or exploitable. In other words, are there water reserves that can be economically exploited?" Clive Neal, a professor of planetary geology at the University of Notre Dame, told me.
The prospect of finding water on the moon is exciting in many ways, scientists say.
Frozen water, uncontaminated by solar radiation, may have accumulated in cold polar regions over millions of years, causing ice to accumulate on or near the surface. This provides a unique sample for scientists to analyze and understand the history of water in the solar system.
Simeon Barber, a planetary scientist at the Open University in the UK who is also working with the space agency, said: "We can address questions such as where water came from, when it came from, and how it affected the evolution of life on Earth." . mechanism.
Prof Barber said there were other "pragmatic" reasons for getting water on or below the lunar surface.
Many countries are planning new manned missions to the moon, and astronauts will need drinking and sanitation water.
Transporting equipment from Earth to the Moon requires overcoming Earth's gravity. The larger the team, the more rocket and fuel payloads are required to successfully land on the Moon. It costs new commercial spaceflight companies about $1 million to send a kilogram of payload to the moon.
"That equates to $1 million per liter of drinking water! Space entrepreneurs certainly see moon ice as an opportunity to provide astronauts with a local water source," Professor Barber said.
That's not all. Water molecules can split into hydrogen and oxygen atoms, both of which can be used as propellant in rockets. But first scientists need to know how much ice is on the Moon, in what form, and whether the ice can be efficiently mined and purified to make it safe to drink.
In addition, some extreme regions of Antarctica are bathed in sunlight for as long as 200 Earth days. "Solar energy is another potential resource [for building lunar bases and electrical equipment] at the poles," said NASA project scientist Noah Petro.
The lunar south pole also sits on the edge of a giant impact crater in the solar system. At 2,500 kilometers (1,600 miles) in diameter and 8 kilometers deep, the crater is one of the oldest structures in the solar system. "By landing at the pole, you can start to understand what's going on in this big crater," Dr Petro said.
Navigating the Moon's poles with a rover, spacesuit and sampling tools is also expected to yield valuable information in a very different light and thermal environment than previously explored equatorial sites.
But scientists are reluctant to call this a race to the South Pole.
"These missions have been planned for decades and have been delayed many times. The race is not important to what we know about the moon. The last time there was a real space race, we ended up losing interest in the moon after three years and there were no University of Arizona planets." Science professor Vishnu Reddy said: "We did it. It returned to the surface after 50 years. "
The Indian and Russian missions also share some common goals, the scientists noted.
Both intend to land similar-sized spacecraft in the Antarctic region, which is further south of the equator than any previous lunar mission.
Following a failed attempt to land on the moon in 2019, India wants to demonstrate its ability to conduct precise lunar landings near the poles. It also aims to examine the moon's exosphere, an extremely thin atmosphere, and analyze polar regolith, the accumulation of loose particles and dust deposited on bedrock over billions of years.
The goals of Luna-25 include analyzing the composition of the polar regolith and examining the plasma and dust elements of the lunar polar exosphere.
To be sure, the Indian orbiter's landing site is "a bit far from the actual pole." "But the data it provides will be interesting," Professor Neil said.
Russia and China plan to buildlunar space stationDevelop research facilities on the lunar surface, in orbit, or both. Russia is planning more moon missions. NASA is sending instruments on commercial landers to places on the far side of the moon. Japan is preparing to sendsmart lander(SLIM mission) Aug. 26: This is a small-scale mission designed to demonstrate precise lunar landing techniques with a small rover.
And, of course, there's NASA.Artemis ProjectMore than half a century after the last Apollo mission, it aimed to return astronauts to the moon in a series of spaceflights.
"The moon is like a giant puzzle. We have pieces, corners and edges based on samples and data from lunar meteorites. We have a picture of the moon, but it's not complete," Dr Pietro said.
"The moon still surprises us."
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