Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

December 4, 1996
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Ice at the Lunar South Pole
Clementine, BMDO, NRL, LLNL

Explanation: Ice on the Moon? The prospecting Clementine spacecraft may well have discovered it. In 1994, Clementine spent 70 days in lunar orbit mapping the Moon's surface. Shown above is a dramatically detailed composite view centered on the Lunar South Pole - constructed from 1500 Clementine images. This area contains part of the South Pole-Aitken impact basin, the largest known crater in the solar system, probably caused by the impact of a comet or asteroid. The depth of the basin and crater walls at the Lunar South Pole create the permanent shadow region visible above - hypothesised to be large and cold enough to trap water brought to the moon by cometary impacts as surface ice. Indeed, a recent analysis of Clementine data from this area has found a signature of water ice. Water on the Moon presents exciting possibilities as resource for future lunar exploration.

Tomorrow's picture: Io's Giant Volcano Pele

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
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