(ORDO NEWS) — The moon, our celestial neighbor, holds many mysteries that have yet to be unraveled. Among its mysterious features are areas that have never been illuminated by the Sun. These eternal shadows, hidden in some craters located mainly in the polar regions, are of interest to space agencies around the world.
Recent spacecraft flights have revealed the presence of water ice in these areas, making them prime targets for future exploration by rovers, landers and, ultimately, humans.
Tilt Moon: A Unique Phenomenon
The reason why sunlight never hits these shaded areas is due to the special tilt of the moon. Unlike the Earth, which has an inclination of 23.5 degrees relative to the orbital plane, the Moon is almost vertical and has an inclination of only 1.5 degrees. This means that regardless of its position in orbit around the Earth, the sun’s rays fall on the Moon almost perpendicularly. Thus, while the equatorial regions are flooded with abundant light, the polar regions are plunged into perpetual darkness, reminiscent of late afternoons in winter on Earth.
Craters: Gatekeepers of Eternal Shadows
If a single mountain on the Moon doesn’t create permanent darkness, a rimmed crater is another matter entirely. In such craters, the bottom and part of the wall remain in eternal shadow due to the location of the rim. As the moon rotates, the shadow changes, and as a result, areas are formed that never get direct sunlight. The sun disappears forever behind the rim, plunging these areas into eternal twilight.
Cold traps: Places where water hides
These shaded areas, aptly named “cold traps”, provide a unique environment for water to accumulate. Constantly low temperatures, reaching below -160°C (-260°F), do not allow the ice formed there to evaporate or sublimate. Instead, ice behaves like rock, staying frozen for billions of years. Most of these cold traps, about 60%, are located outside of 80 degrees latitude at the Moon’s South Pole, making this region of particular interest to space agencies.
Race to the Lunar Poles: A Multinational Effort
Many countries have set their sights on exploring the polar regions of the moon. Russia‘s Luna 25 spacecraft plans to reach these areas within days, followed by India‘s Chandrayaan 3. China also plans to send a Chang’e-7 lander and a rover to the moon’s south pole in 2026, while Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is preparing a private mission. In addition, NASA‘s Artemis 3 mission is scheduled for December 2025 to return a man to the moon. However, due to setbacks caused by the explosion of a SpaceX starship and subsequent damage to the launch pad, Artemis 3 could be modified to prevent landing in the Moon’s polar regions.
Revealing the origin of lunar water
The presence of water on the Moon is due to various sources that go beyond the ice found in cold traps. Hydrated minerals and glass beads formed from the Moon’s collisions with smaller celestial bodies in the Solar System also contribute to the water content. Water molecules themselves are found all over the surface of the Moon, including in sunlit areas where these precious molecules are contained in dust grains.
Revealing the Secrets of the Moon
As scientists and space agencies continue to search for the mysteries of the moon, exploration of its polar regions promises to bring invaluable results. Since water ice is a potential resource for future human settlement and scientific research, these shadowed craters hold the key to humanity’s future endeavors beyond Earth.
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