The Moon - the Earth's natural Satellite

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.