The Earth has one natural satellite, the Moon. Like Mercury, the Moon has many craters produced
by meteorite impacts billions of years ago. The dark plains are due to particularly large
impacts that produced huge pits, which then filled with molten lava from the Moon’s
core. In contrast to the Earth — which is a living
planet — the Moon is a dead, dry, colourless world with no atmosphere and hence no erosion.
Consequently its surface has remained mostly unchanged for billions of years. [Music]
During its 16 months around our Moon, Europe’s Smart 1 orbiter has taken some of the highest
resolution pictures ever obtained of its surface. The satellite’s AMIE miniature camera has
sent back some 20,000 views. The whole Moon has been mapped with resolutions
from 40 metres in the south to 200 metres over the North Pole — valuable information
for future missions. Features that predominate are the millions
of craters large and small that pockmark the surface — evidence of the regular onslaught
of meteorites throughout the ages. Lunar impact flashes during the Leonids meteor
shower were first reported by Spanish astronomers in 1999.
In May this year a 10 inch NASA telescope was able by chance to record the impact flash
of such a meteorite. Four months later, the Smart 1 satellite has
made its own mark on the Moon with a precisely controlled and spectacular finale to its mission.
A network of ground stations, optical and radio telescopes was ready to observe the
impact site — the Lake of Excellence in a cratered highland
area at a mid southern latitude on the lunar near side.
Since this exceptional crash scene investigation began, first analyses indicate that the satellite
hit the Moon on the ascending slope — of a mountain about 1.2 kilometres high
above the plain of the Lake of Excellence. If humans are to live on the Moon, or even
Mars one day, there is still a lot of work to be done.
With this in mind, ESA is planning a new mission; landing an unmanned spacecraft near the Moon’s
South Pole. A region full of dangerous boulders and high
ridges — but a possible location for future human explorers.
Because of almost continuous sunlight, and potential access to water ice.
“The next step is the Moon — the Moon being reachable in two to three days from
the Earth. “Allowing us to put together a lot of technologies
and a lot of experiments preparing for human exploration of the Moon.
“And therefore as a step for the human exploration of Mars.”
The study contract was recently awarded to the European Industry to further develop this
mission — which is part of an international framework.
To reach the surface safely, the lander must precisely navigate its way to a mountain peak
on crater rim — carefully avoiding boulders and steep
slopes, before gently setting down and starting to collect much-needed data.
There are many issues that must be investigated for the long-term exploration of the Solar
System. In this, the lunar lander plays a small but
crucial part, before we can make another giant leap for mankind.
The goal then is to launch the lander in 2018.