Sneak peek at the highest-resolution 3D map of the Moon that Chandrayaan 2’s orbiter is putting together

ISRO shares the initial results of its project to create a high-resolution map of the MoonISRO
  • The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is currently working on the highest resolution 3D map of the Moon to date.
  • Chandrayaan 2’s orbiter is using a combination of four instruments to capture details of what’s on and below the lunar surface.
  • ISRO submitted its initial observations and analysis to the 51st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference 2020.
Even though India’s Chandrayaan 2 mission wasn’t a complete success — with its lander crash landing on the Moon — it’s still powering through to deliver a few gems. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is using the pictures captured by the orbiter to create the highest resolution 3D map of Moon till date.

Using the orbiter’s Orbiter High-Resolution Camera ( OHRC) to capture these detailed images. At its highest resolution, the OHRC can capture images at 0.25 meters per pixel.

The only other instrument surveilling Earth’s natural satellite that comes anywhere close is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) that can capture pictures of the Moon at 0.5 meters per pixel.

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The OHRC isn’t alone in its endeavour. The Terrain Mapping Camera ( TMC 2) can capture 3D images, the Imaging Infrared Spectrometer ( IIRS) is looking for water, and the Dual Frequency Synthetic Aperture Radar ( DFSAR) can see below the surface.

Scientists at ISRO submitted a draft of the final results from the OHRC on Chandrayaan 2’s orbiter to be presented at the 51st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in March. However, due to the coronavirus outbreak, the conference has been cancelled.
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​Chandrayaan 2’s night vision

​Chandrayaan 2’s night vision

Portion of the region around the crater (R2). The boulders are clearly visible.

In addition to being able to capture the most nuanced details of the Moon’s cratered surface, the OHRC also stands out for being able to take pictures in under-lit conditions. Even when a particular region isn’t illuminated by sunlight, the orbiter can peer through the darkness to capture images of crater floors on the Moon.

​Why do we need a map of the lunar poles?

​Why do we need a map of the lunar poles?

(a) OHRC image showing the rim and floor of Boguslawsky E crater and nearby area. (b) Region R1 in crater floor that has been illuminated by the rimreflected light. (c) Fresh crater with boulders (R2)

The orbiter has plans to map the lunar poles — where the Sun never shines. Scientists don’t have a very cohesive understanding of what lies in those regions. However, they have deemed them integral to future human habitation on the Moon.

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​Planning for human habitation of the Moon

​Planning for human habitation of the Moon

3D view of a Dorsa from the generated DEM of Orbit no.1305 of TMC-2 datasets

“High-resolution images of OHRC will be useful for understanding recent volcanic, tectonic, mass wasting and impact cratering processes through the study of features,” said the study.

Understanding the terrain is important in this case because it will allow future astronomers to plan long-term missions.

​How did the Moon get its craters?

​How did the Moon get its craters?

3D view of a crater from the generated DEM of Orbit no.628 of TMC-2 datasets

Mapping out the terrain is only one part of the story. The TMC 2 has been pulling its weight as well. It has already beamed back images that help astronomers under how lunar features form and get their shape.

With a 3D map and images, scientists can begin to understand the geometry of impacts that formed the Moon’s craters.

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​The hunt for water and minerals

​The hunt for water and minerals

a. Chandrayaan-2 IIRS image showing crater Glauber situated south of Mare Moscoviense
b. The same crater as imaged by Chandrayaan-1 M3

Combining 3D images with the infrared imaging, ISRO can also map for minerals — and the IIRS has a tough legacy to follow. Its predecessor abroad Chandrayaan 1, the Moon Mineralogical Mapper (M3) was the first to find water on the Moon.

Both instruments reflect sunlight off the surface. The patterns of how the infrared reflections are distributed can indicate where there may be water — and where there isn’t.

In the endeavour to live up to expectations, the IIRS boasts of twice the sensitivity of M3.

Where is water on the Moon?

Where is water on the Moon?

Raney decomposed image of study area acquired by (a) Chandrayaan 2 DFSAR L band; (b) LRO Mini-RF S band; (c) corresponding optical image acquired by LRO Narrow Angle Camera image.

Supporting the IIRS in its mission is the DFSAR. The instrument can peer below the surface of the Moon to actually quantify the amount of water that may be stored in potential water-rich regions.

The polar regions, in particular, are estimated to store more than 600 billion kilos of water ice by past studies.

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​What’s next for the Moon?

​What’s next for the Moon?

In addition to figuring out where it is safe to land and where habitats can be set up when humans eventually decide to stay on the Moon for long periods of time — it’s also important to know what supplies are needed.

Scientists are hoping that the stores of water on the Moon will reduce the baggage of future missions significantly — and could serve as a backup plan of humans back on Earth when the planet eventually exhausts its own reserves.

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