Washington (DC) - There's a radar system currently hitching a ride with India's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft in orbit around the moon. For the first time, it's giving scientists the opportunity to look into the cold, deep craters that never see light of the sun, nor the Earth. It is believed that if there's any water ice to be found on the moon, that is where it will be.
The Mini-SAR instrument is a lightweight Synthetic Aperature Radar. After passing its initial in-flight tests, it has begun beaming back data to Earth. The radar images show the floors of deep craters in the polar regions that are not visible from Earth. The images so far look like little more than black and white images of the moon. However, NASA will continue studying them to look for possible ice formations.
Said Benjamin Bussey, deputy principal investigator for Mini-SAR (from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Laboratory in Laurel, MD), "The only way to explore such areas is to use an orbital imaging radar such as Mini-SAR. This is an exciting first step for the team which has worked diligently for more than three years to get to this point."
The images were taken in November and show part of the Haworth crater at the moon's south pole, and also the western rim of the Seares crater - which is an impact feature near the north pole.
In the continuing lunar mission, Jason Crusan, program executive for the Mini-RF Program for NASA's Space Operations Mission Directorate in Washington, has said, "During the next few months we expect to have a fully calibrated and operational instrument collecting valuable science data at the moon."
The Mini-RF is one of 11 instruments on board the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, and is one of two sponsored specifically by NASA. NASA's other sponsored instrument is the Mineralogy Mapper, which as already produced some stunning images of the surface of the moon.
See NASA's press release.