A view of the Moon between 80 degrees south latitude and the south pole based on data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s laser altimeter. Permanently shadowed areas that never receive sunlight – possible sources of ice – are shown in red outlines with black fill. Image: Stopar J. and Meyer H./Lunar and Planetary Institute Regional Planetary Image Facility
The Trump administration has directed NASA to send astronauts back to the surface of the Moon by the end of 2024. The agency’s target is the Moon’s south polar region, where permanently shadowed craters provide the constant low temperatures needed to trap vast reservoirs of ice – a potential source of rocket fuel, air and water.
To help mission planners better understand the region, the Lunar and Planetary Institute, or LPI, is providing a new atlas of sorts covering the south polar region at varying scales complete with colour-coded elevations that clearly highlight areas where ice might be found, along with lighted areas where future crews could generate solar power to extract it.
The new atlas features 14 topographic maps based on high-resolution data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, including digital elevation models derived from the spacecraft’s Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter.