Sea of ​​Honey: What you need to know about the part of the moon where Japan's lander touched down?

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The journey of “Moon Sniper,” the robotic explorer that made Japan the fifth country to safely land a spacecraft on the surface of the moon, did not go as expected.

Although the mission, officially known as the Smart Lander to Explore the Moon, or SLIM, reached its destination last week, a “mistake” during descent left the vehicle with its solar panels facing the wrong direction. Battery power According to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Now, with the Moon Sniper's battery powered down to maintain the spacecraft's operation, JAXA officials are in wait-and-see mode, hoping the changing angle of the sun will restore power to the vehicle and allow the mission to resume. If the lander is relaunched, it will best serve its purposes by gathering unprecedented information about an area known as the Sea of ​​Honey.

The spacecraft touched down near a pit was invited Shioli — a Japanese female first name pronounced “shi-o-lee” — is located about 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the Pacific Ocean, the region near the lunar equator, where Apollo 11 first landed humans on the moon.

NASA

In 1969, the American lunar probe Apollo 11 captured an oblique view of the great crater Theophilus on the northwestern edge of the Honey Sea.

At about 880 feet (268 meters) in diameter, it is a small crater, but it is close to a much larger crater called Theophilus, which is 60 miles (97 kilometers) across. This detail is particularly interesting for study.

“When I was reading about it a month ago, I was really excited to see that they chose this site,” said Dr. Gordon Osinski, a professor of planetary geology at Western University in Ontario. Artemis III Lunar Mission Geology Team.

“One of the great things about craters is that they dig up rocks from deep and basically give us a window into what's beneath the surface of a planetary body,” Osinski added. Shioli rests on the ground excavated by a nearby large crater that comes from a depth of 1 mile (1.6 kilometers), giving researchers the opportunity to study lunar rock without any holes.

“I think they chose this particular crater because they found the mineral olivine — and any time you mention olivine, people's eyes light up because we think it could have come from the mantle of the moon, which we've never sampled at the site,” Osinski said.

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In November, NASA released Photographs The spacecraft, taken by Shioli's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, is currently orbiting the moon and mapping it to aid future missions. In a black-and-white photo, the crater looks like a split of light.

“The Moon doesn't have an Earth-like atmosphere, so it's not protected, and it's constantly bombarded by micrometeorites and radiation, which damages the surface layers,” said Sarah Russell, professor of planetary science and the planetarium's senior research leader. Materials Group of the Natural History Museum, London.

Jaxa

Studying rare rock samples makes the Moon an excellent geological laboratory. Here is the first image sent back by the Moon Sniper after landing on the lunar surface.

The crater is lighter in color because radiation and micro-meteorites haven't had enough time to darken it: “When a crater occurs, it throws up buried material, and it can be very old because it hasn't experienced this damage, which we call space weathering. It's new for us to see. gives the rock, and we can learn more about the moon,” he said.

The opportunities to study these rare rock samples make the moon an ideal geological laboratory, Russell added.

“What the moon has experienced, the earth has experienced. “Looking at craters can also tell us about Earth's own history, because rocks form without any complicating factors like water and life and air on Earth,” he said. “It's a beautiful experiment in the sky.”

After landing in the crater, the spacecraft captured 257 low-resolution images of its surroundings, and the team later assigned nicknames to some of the rocks in the images. More images will be taken if the lander is able to regain power.

JAXA/Ritsumeikan University, Aizu University

A camera mounted on the SLIM lander reveals an enlarged view of the lunar surface and its rocks in a mosaic of the first images.

Another reason for choosing the site near Shioli as the landing site for Japan's SLIM mission was that its small size was an excellent training ground for the lander's pinpoint accuracy, allowing it to target an area of ​​just 328 feet (100 meters) for touchdown. . True to its nickname, the Moon Sniper actually landed just 180 feet (55 meters) short of its target, a “remarkable feat” that JAXA deemed.

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“They're really using technology to show that they can land in very small landing circles, which is a step forward for the capabilities of landing on different planets,” said geochemistry and research fellow Dr John Burnett-Fisher. in cosmochemistry at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, in an interview before landing.

Traditionally, lunar missions target areas a few kilometers wide for touchdown: “But that really limits where you land, because you have to make sure it's safe to land at every point in the entire landing area,” he added. “If you want to land in very challenging or rugged terrain, it makes things more difficult, so it opens the door to landing in areas that are a little bit different topographically, so there's something else to say about it. The moon and its formation.”

The Moon Sniper landing site is not far from where Apollo 16 landed in 1972. Crews from that earlier mission collected 731 individual rock and soil samples. 95.7 kilograms (210 pounds), according to the Lunar and Planetary Institute. That is a substantial part 382 kilograms (842 pounds) that NASA brought back from the Moon during the entire program.

“If you think about it, we're trying to explain the geologic history of this entire body in terms of a collection of rocks from a geologically small area,” Burnett-Fisher said. “So it's really important for us to collect as much data as possible from a huge diversity of different geographic locations. Although it's still relatively close to some of the Apollo missions, it's the most important data we'll ever collect.

The largest lunar feature near Shioli is the Nectar Sea, a basin 210 miles (339 kilometers) in diameter, one of the oldest on the near side of the Moon, the hemisphere that always faces Earth. The lunar plain is visible through binoculars or a small telescope, and was formed when the moon's surface formed about 3.9 billion years ago.

The Sea of ​​Honey is smaller than its neighbor, the Pacific Ocean, which is only 540 miles (875 kilometers) across, and is also smoother and flatter.

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“The calm was not chosen for the Apollo 11 landing for any scientific reasons, but because it was one of the flat, smooth areas of the Moon, it was therefore considered safe to land on,” Western University's Osinski said.

“This applies to most robotic tasks,” he added. “I'm the principal investigator for Canada's first lunar rover, and we're now looking at landing sites. We're being directed away from craters or boulders and toward softer areas, which might actually be of less scientific interest.

CNN/Getty Images/ISRO/lROC

1) Sea of ​​Tranquility 2) Apollo 11 landing pad 3) Shioli crater SLIM task target and 4) Chandrayaan-3 moon landing pad

Scientists call these basins “seas” or “mariae” in the original Latin because ancient astronomers who first saw the moon believed they were filled with water due to its dark hue.

“After the Apollo missions, we brought back samples and learned that they were essentially massive lava planes,” Osinski said. “It's not like there was a big volcano with lava, but fissure eruptions, so the lava was actually coming up through the fractures. We can think of them as lava oceans.

Water comes into play as we look at another area of ​​the Moon that will be targeted by upcoming landings, including NASA's first crewed Artemis mission, expected as soon as 2026: “The South Pole,” Osinski said, “is an area that's geologically interesting, and full of what we call volatiles — water.” Ice but think frozen carbon dioxide or ammonia.

If humans can find a source of good, substantial water ice on the moon's south pole and extract it, the result could be a game changer for lunar exploration, Osinski says.

“We'll have water for the astronauts to drink, we'll be able to extract the oxygen, and we'll be able to break it down to get hydrogen for rocket fuel. It also cuts costs, because water is one of the most expensive things to launch from Earth because it's so heavy,” he said.

“If we want to build the lunar bases we all hope for, we need to find a source of water to use on the moon.”

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