A vividnew topographical map of the moon's south pole paintsrainbow colors over contours, revealing craters that are permanently shadowed.
NASA'sJet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. created the new false-colormap from observations gathered by the GoldstoneSolar System Radar, located in California's Mojave Desert.
The map will help mission plannersfor NASA?s new Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), a smallspacecraft now that is destined to slam into the lunar south pole regionOct. 9.
"Since the beginning of time, these lunar craters have been invisible tohumanity," Barbara Wilson, a scientist at JPL said in a statement."Now we can see detailed topography inside these craters.?
Wilson said the new map revealedlunar crater features at a resolution of about 132 feet (40 meters) per pixel.
To produce this map,Goldstone?s massive antenna, three-quarters the sizeof a football field, sent a 500-kilowatt, 90-minute-long radar stream to themoon, 231,800 miles (373,046 kilometers) away. The moon?s rugged terrainreflected the signals back to Goldstone, a roundtrip time clocked at 2.5seconds.
The scientists compared their dataagainst that from a laser altimeter recently released by the Japanese AerospaceExploration Agency's Kaguya mission. The new mapprovides contiguous topographic detail over a region approximately 311 miles(500 km) by 249 miles (400 km).
Its contour data will help missionplanners plot out the planned impact zone for the LCROSS probe and its attachedCentaur rocket stage. NASA plans to intentially crashthe two vehicles into the permanently shadowed craters of the moon?s south pole. Telescopes in space and on Earth will then scanthe resulting plume of material for signs of waterice.
NASA launched the LCROSS probe and alarger spacecraft, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, last month. The orbiter iscurrently circling the moon and has beamed home its first high-resolutionimages of the lunar surface.
Goldstone?s 230-foot (70-meter)radar dish is one-third of the Deep SpaceNetwork used to monitor spacecraft across the solar system. The other twoantennas are in Madrid, Spain and Canberra, Australia.
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