The Moon's South Pole

This is a collection of the media resources available on the Scientific Visualization Studio website related to the south pole of the Moon, an area of special interest for future exploration. It has been studied intensively by every instrument aboard Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). It includes cold, permanently shadowed craters that have collected water and other volatiles and shielded them from the Sun. Its rugged terrain also offers temperate high spots with persistent sunshine ideal for continuous solar power generation. More information and media are available at

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  • Temperature, Reflectance Point to Frost near the Moon's Poles

    Scientists studying data from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) have found evidence of surface frost near the poles on the Moon. Elizabeth Fisher, Paul Lucey, and their colleagues combined temperature data from LRO's Diviner instrument with reflectance from its laser altimeter (LOLA) to find places that are cold enough and shiny enough to indicate the possible presence of surface water ice.

  • LEND Looks for Water at the South Pole
    Since Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) entered lunar orbit in 2009, its neutron detector, LEND, has been counting the neutrons coming from the Moon's surface in order to detect water and other volatiles.
  • Water on the Moon
    Since the 1960’s, scientists have suspected that frozen water could survive in cold, dark craters at the Moon’s poles. While previous lunar missions have detected hints of water on the Moon, new data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) pinpoints areas near the south pole where water is likely to exist. The key to this discovery is hydrogen, the main ingredient in water: LRO uses its Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector, or LEND, to measure how much hydrogen is trapped within the lunar soil. By combining years of LEND data, scientists see mounting evidence of hydrogen-rich areas near the Moon’s south pole, strongly suggesting the presence of frozen water.
  • Tour of the Moon 4K Redux
    In the fall of 2011, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission released its original Tour of the Moon, a five-minute animation that takes the viewer on a virtual tour of our nearest neighbor in space. Six years later, the tour has been recreated in eye-popping 4K resolution, using the same camera path and drawing from the vastly expanded data trove collected by LRO in the intervening years. The south pole is one stop on the tour.
  • Lunar Prospector Hydrogen Concentration - South Pole
    In 1998 NASA's Lunar Prospector mission used the presence of hydrogen as a sign of potential ice deposits. As you can see in this video, Prospector data showed significantly more hydrogen at the south pole of the moon (areas colored blue).

Permanent Shadows

  • The Moon's Permanently Shadowed Regions
    As you watch the Moon over the course of a month, you'll notice that different features are illuminated by the Sun at different times. However, there are some parts of the Moon that never see sunlight. These areas are called permanently shadowed regions, and they appear dark because unlike on the Earth, the axis of the Moon is nearly perpendicular to the direction of the sun's light. The result is that the bottoms of certain craters are never pointed toward the Sun, with some remaining dark for over two billion years. However, thanks to new data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, we can now see into these dark craters in incredible detail.
  • LRO Peers into Permanent Shadows
    The Moon's permanently shadowed regions, or PSRs, are places on the Moon that haven't seen the Sun in millions, or even billions, of years. The Earth's tilted axis allows sunlight to fall everywhere on its surface, even at the poles, for at least part of the year. But the Moon's tilt relative to the Sun is only 1.6°, not enough to get sunlight into some deep craters near the lunar north and south poles. PSRs are therefore some of the coldest, darkest places in the solar system.
  • Visualizing Shackleton Crater
    These computer-generated images are centered on Shackleton crater, a well-preserved, bowl-shaped crater, 21 kilometers wide and 4 km deep, at the Moon's south pole. Shackleton's floor is in perpetual shadow, but LOLA, the laser altimeter on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, reveals boulders and low hills, or hummocks, formed by material slumping from the crater's sides.
  • Permanent Shadows on the Moon
    As the Earth and Moon orbit around the Sun, there are places on the Moon that never receive direct sunlight. Most of these permanently shadowed regions are at the lunar poles. This animation approximates the permanently shadowned regions pertaining to the Moon's south pole by maintaining a maximum sun angle to the surface of 1.5 degrees.


  • Hyperwall: LOLA Slope Map
    The whorls and impressionistic color palette of this slope map of the Moon are reminiscent of Vincent van Gogh's "The Starry Night," which is one reason it was featured in LRO's The Moon as Art collection. The map is a product of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter laser altimeter (LOLA). It shows the steepness of the lunar terrain, from crater walls and mountainsides (red and white) to flat crater floors (blue and purple). A visualization of the same part of the Moon in natural color and light reveals that the whorls are the steep sides and rims of craters.
  • GRAIL Gravity Map for the Cover of Geophysical Research Letters
    This print-resolution still image was created for the cover of the May 28, 2014 issue of Geophysical Research Letters. It shows a high-resolution free-air gravity map based on GRAIL data, overlaid on terrain based on LRO altimeter (LOLA) and camera (LROC) data. The view is south-up, with the south pole near the horizon in the upper left and the crescent Earth in the distance. The terminator crosses the eastern rim of the Schrödinger basin. Gravity is painted onto the areas that are in or near the night side. Red corresponds to mass excesses and blue to mass deficits.
  • Lunar Transit from Solar Dynamics Observatory (2010)

    Just as we do on Earth, the Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite periodically crosses the Moon's shadow and experiences a solar eclipse. During the eclipse witnessed by SDO on October 7, 2010, the southern hemisphere of the Moon was silhouetted against the solar disk, revealing some especially prominent mountain peaks near the Moon's south pole. By using elevation data from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to visualize the Moon from SDO's point of view, it's possible to identify these peaks.

  • The Moon's South Pole in 3D via LRO/LOLA First Light Data
    Lunar Reconnaissance Oribiter (LRO) was launched on June 18, 2009. Its mission is to map the moon's surface, find safe landing sites, locate potential resources, characterize the radiation environment, and demonstrate new technology. One of the instruments on board is the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) which measures landing site slopes, lunar surface roughness, and has begun generation of a high resolution 3D map of the Moon. The animation depicted here is the beginning of LOLA's mapping project and shows the lunar south pole through digital elevation map data collected by the LOLA instrument during the spacecraft commissioning phase.
  • LRO/LOLA Lunar South Pole Flyover
    This visualization uses Clementine data for the global view of the moon, but then transitions to using only LRO/LOLA DEM with a neutral gray texture when flying around the lunar south pole. The DEM by itself creates an amazingly realistic view of the lunar southpole. As better maps are created from the other instruments aboard LRO, an even clearer picture of the moon will emerge.
  • LOLA Lunar Topography in False Color
    This animation is a brief tour of several prominent features of the Moon's terrain: Tycho crater, the south pole, and the South Pole-Aitken basin. The height of the terrain is color-coded, with blues and greens representing low altitudes and reds representing high altitudes.
  • LOLA: Lunar Topography in Natural Color
    This animation is a brief tour of several prominent features of the Moon's terrain: Tycho crater, the south pole, and the South Pole-Aitken basin. Although it shows the visible surface in natural color, this animation does not depict realistic sunlight and shadows. This is especially significant near the poles, where certain parts of the terrain can be in permanent shadow and would never be fully visible in the manner depicted here.
  • Clementine Lunar South Pole
    NASA's next moon mission, the Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter (LRO), will pave the way for future lunar missions by taking high resolution data of the entire lunar body. This animation zooms into one region of high interest, the lunar south pole, as seen by the 1994 Clementine mission.


  • Modeling the LCROSS Impact Site
    A two-ton Atlas Centaur rocket body, part of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), struck the floor of Cabeus crater, near the south pole of the moon, at 11:31 UT on October 9, 2009. The purpose of the crash was to create a plume of debris that could be examined for the presence of water and other chemicals in the lunar regolith. The effects of the impact were captured by sensors onboard a shepherding satellite travelling four minutes behind the Centaur. They were also watched by Earth-based observatories and several Earth-orbiting satellites, including the Hubble Space Telescope. The images here were created in the weeks prior to the impact. They visualize the viewing angle, terrain, and shadows around the target crater at the time of the impact.
  • LRO Supports LCROSS
    Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) were launched together on the same Atlas V rocket on June 18, 2009. Months later, after following very different paths to the moon, LRO and LCROSS met once more. LCROSS struck the floor of Cabeus crater, near the south pole of the moon, at 11:31 UT on October 9, 2009. LRO witnessed the impact from its orbit 50 kilometers (30 miles) above the surface. This animation shows LRO and LCROSS from 5 minutes before to 5 minutes after the impact.
  • LAMP Observes the LCROSS Impact
    The Lyman-Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) instrument aboard Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) observed the tenuous vapor cloud created by the LCROSS impact. LAMP is LRO's "night vision." Most of the time, it uses the ultraviolet light in starlight to peer into deep shadows on the moon's surface. For the LCROSS impact, LAMP was pointed just above the lunar horizon to watch for the arrival of a rapidly expanding cloud of vaporized debris from the crash.

Images and Data

  • LRO Lowers Periapsis
    On May 4, 2015, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) maneuvered into a new orbit that brings it closer than ever to the south pole of the Moon. The orbit is elliptical, with a closest approach, called periapsis, within 20 kilometers of the surface. The far end of the orbit (apoapsis) is roughly 165 kilometers above the north pole. The new orbit is relatively stable, requiring little fuel to maintain. The illustration shows LRO flying over Shackleton crater and the terrain of the south pole.
  • Jim Garvin's Top "Pics" - LROC Images
    In this video series, NASA Scientist Jim Garvin highlights his favorite pictures taken throughout the solar system. This episode focuses on images taken by LROC – the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera. Jim explains which pictures made his “top 5” list. Number 4 is a composite image of the south pole.
  • Shackleton's Rim Through the Eyes of LRO/LROC
    During Lunar Reconnaissance Oribiter's Commissioning Phase, the high resolution Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) captured this 0.8-meter per pixel two-image mosaic of Shackleton Crater on the moon's south pole.
  • Ten Cool Things Seen in the First Year of LRO
    To celebrate one year in orbit, here are ten cool things already observed by LRO. Several of these are data from the south pole.
  • LRO Early Results Press Conference
    NASA showcased new images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's seven instruments and provided updates about the topography of the moon's south pole during a news conference on September 17. NASA also provided an update about the spacecraft's status and mission plans. The briefing took place at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.