Site of Potential Lunar Colony Detailed in 3-D
Digital elevation map created with AMIE data.
Credit: ESA/SMART-1/Space-X (Space Exploration Institute)

Scientists have created a 3-D picture of a luminous and mountainous site on the moon that holds promise as a possible future location for a lunar colony.

The spot, near the moon's south pole, is called the "peak of eternal light" because it is almost continuously exposed to sunlight.

Researchers created the new 3-D image using data taken by the Advanced Moon Micro-Imager Experiment (AMIE) camera carried by the European Space Agency's SMART-1 (Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology) robotic moon mission.

"AMIE is not a stereo camera, so producing a 3-D model of the surface has been a challenge," said ESA researcher Detlef Koschny.  "We?ve used a technique where we use the brightness of reflected light to determine the slope and, by comparing several images, put together a model that produces a shadow pattern that matches those observed by SMART-1."

Koschny plans to present the images Sept. 26 at the European Planetary Science Congress in M?nster, Germany.

During its orbits around the moon, which lasted from November 2004 until September 2006, AMIE took a total of 113 images of the peak, located close to the rim of the Shackleton Crater on the lunar south pole. In all but four of the images, the peak was illuminated by sunlight.  

The peak of eternal light could be a promising spot for a future manned moon landing or even a lunar colony, because the near-continuous sunlight that shines down could generate a constant electricity supply. In addition, the shadowed craters nearby are in perpetual darkness and may hold water ice deposited over millennia by impacting comets and hydrogen and oxygen particles contained in the solar wind.

To create the 3-D map of the area, the team, led by Bj?rn Grieger of ESA?s European Space Astronomy Centre in Madrid, analyzed five images taken from different angles. By comparing the images, and mapping all of their pixels onto a grid, the researchers calculated the angles of the peak's slopes and produced a topographical model.

After its years in orbit, the SMART-1 satellite eventually crashed into the moon as planned in September 2006.