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Explained: Why Chandrayaan-2 will land near the south pole of the Moon

Chandrayaan-2 Moon landing: The furthest that any spacecraft has gone from the equator was Surveyor 7, launched by NASA, that made a moon landing way back on January 10, 1968. This spacecraft landed near 40 degree south latitude.

Written by Amitabh Sinha , Edited by Explained Desk | Pune | Updated: September 7, 2019 7:17:41 am
Explained: Why Chandrayaan-2 will land near the south pole of the Moon The polar regions of the moon are a very different, and difficult, terrain. (Source: ISRO)

Chandrayaan-2 is the 29th spacecraft to land on the surface of moon. But it will go where no spacecraft has gone before. Its lander module, called Vikram, will land at a location very close to the south pole of the moon, near a latitude of about 70 degree south of lunar equator (the poles are located at 90 degree latitude).

All the other spacecraft to have landed on moon have landed in the equatorial region, a few degree latitude north or south of the lunar equator. The furthest that any spacecraft has gone from the equator was Surveyor 7, launched by NASA, that made a moon landing way back on January 10, 1968. This spacecraft landed near 40 degree south latitude. Follow Chandrayaan-2 LIVE updates

There is very good reason why all the landings on the moon so far have happened in the equatorial region. Even China’s Chang’e 4, which became the first spacecraft to land on the far side of the moon (the side that does not face the earth), landed near the 45 degree latitude. It is easier and safer to land near the equator. The terrain and temperature are more hospitable, and conducive for longer and sustained operation of instruments. The surface here is even and smooth, very steep slopes are almost absent, and there are fewer hills or craters. Sunlight is present in abundance, at least on the side facing the earth, thus offering regular supply of energy to solar-powered instruments. Explained | As Chandrayaan-2 makes Moon landing, here’s what you’ll see

The polar regions of the moon, however, are a very different, and difficult, terrain. Many parts lie in a completely dark region where sunlight never reaches, and temperatures can go below 230 degree Celsius. Lack of sunlight and extreme low temperatures create difficulty in operation of instruments. In addition, there are large craters all over the place, ranging from a few cm in size to those extending to several thousands of kilometres.

Also read | Chandrayaan-2 timeline: From launch to loss of contact with Vikram lander

As a result, the polar regions of the moon have remained unexplored. But several Orbiter missions have provided evidence that these regions could be very interesting to explore. There are indications of presence of ice molecules in substantial amounts in the deep craters in this region. In addition, the extremely cold temperatures here mean that anything trapped here would remain frozen in time, without undergoing much change. The rocks and soil in this region could therefore provide clues to early solar system.

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Therefore, there is an immense potential to reveal new science through the exploration of polar regions of the moon. This is precisely what Chandrayaan-2 would attempt to do.

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