Released on September 17, 2009
During the Lunar Reconnaissance Oribiter's (LRO) Commissioning Phase, the high resolution Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) on the LRO Camera (LROC) instrument captured this 0.8-meter per pixel scale (angular resolution) two-image mosaic of Shackleton Crater on the moon's south pole. Many more images of this area will be obtained by the NAC over the coming months as the lunar south pole emerges from the shadows of winter. At meter scales, the geology of this region reminds us that the polar regions of the Moon are still waiting to be explored. The rim of Shackleton crater is a prime candidate for future human exploration due to its proximity to permanently shadowed regions and nearby peaks that are illuminated for much of the year.
Last year, Japan's Selene and India's Chandrayaan spacecraft gave us our first high resolution look at the lunar south pole, which includes Shackleton crater. For its size, Shackleton has an exceptionally deep and rugged interior. Usually craters fill in with time as their walls slump and material from afar is thrown in by distant impacts. Much of Shackleton's rim appears rounded and is peppered with smaller craters, indications of a relatively ancient age. Right now it is not clear if Shackleton crater is relatively old or young. This NAC image reveals a shelf on the southeast flank of the crater that is more than two kilometers across and perfectly suitable for a future landing. The extreme Sun angle exaggerates the apparent roughness, however if you look closely at this scale any area that is between small craters could be good candidates for a potential landing site.