Artificial intelligence lights up permanently darkened areas on the moon

(ORDO NEWS) — An international team of researchers led by ETH Zurich (ETH) has studied the permanently darkened regions of the moon.

The information obtained by scientists about the properties of the lunar surface will help determine suitable sites for future lunar missions.

The south pole of the moon attracts researchers because there are dark areas that never see sunlight. They are incredibly cold – even colder than Pluto’s surface, which is between -170 and -240°C, approaching absolute zero.

At higher temperatures, ice sublimates and turns into gas very quickly in the vacuum of space. But in this extreme cold, water vapor and other volatiles can get trapped and freeze.

The possibility of water ice makes these shadowed craters interesting places to explore. Ice could prove to be an important resource for future astronauts. It can be used for drinking or as rocket fuel.

An international team of researchers has developed a method to study these areas. The scientists’ work was published in the latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters. The lead author is Valentin Bikkel, a postdoc at ETH.

The team used images taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been photographing the lunar surface for more than a decade. The camera picks up photons that are reflected in shadowed areas from nearby mountains and crater walls.

With the help of AI, the team was able to use this data so effectively that previously darkened areas became visible. After analyzing the resulting images, the team determined that there is no water ice in these areas of the Moon, although its existence has been proven by other instruments.

“There is no evidence of pure surface ice in the shaded areas, meaning the ice is either mixed with the lunar soil or hidden below the surface,” said Bickel.

The findings, published in the new paper, are part of a comprehensive study of potential Artemis landing sites by the Lunar and Planetary Institute and Johnson Space Center.

So far, the team has explored more than half a dozen potential landing sites for the Artemis mission. The results of this study will enable precise planning of routes to permanently dark areas, which will significantly reduce the risks to which astronauts and robotic explorers are exposed.

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