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A thermal infrared camera aboard a lunar lander scheduled to head to the south pole of the Moon as early as 2022 could help determine which regions on the lunar surface have water trapped in them.
Kerri Donaldson Hanna, an assistant physics professor at the University of Central Florida, is working with University of Colorado Boulder assistant professor Paul Hayne on NASA's Lunar Compact InfraRed Imaging System (L-CIRiS). Hayne is the principal investigator on the project in partnership with Ball Aerospace.
The L-CIRiS instrument will scan the landing site and collect thermal images of the lunar surface at high spatial resolution. These images will be used to create maps of the Moon, giving scientists a better understanding of the composition and physical properties of the regolith and rocks directly at the landing site, Donaldson Hanna says.
"The south pole is tantalizing to us, because observations from multiple spacecraft have suggested the south pole could hold water ice and other materials seen as the building blocks of life," Donaldson Hanna says. "The camera is set up to search for areas cold enough to retain water and volatiles like carbon dioxide, methane, and sulfur-bearing species."
She emphasizes the importance of this work for the future of long-term space exploration or habitation.
"If we ever want to send humans for a longer term to the Moon and Mars we need to know what resources are available on the Moon and elsewhere," she says. "What we learn will not only help us understand the Moon, but it will give us insight into potential resources on asteroids and other planetary bodies."
Donaldson Hanna helped in selecting filters for the thermal camera so it can collect the best high-resolution images for mapping the composition of the surface around the landing site. She and her team numerically modeled the best combination of filters using code developed for another NASA Moon-based mission and spectral measurements of lunar soil samples from the Apollo missions.
Donaldson Hanna is also currently working on the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment on board NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and helped to produce the first compositional maps of the Moon's crust based on its thermally emitted radiation. She is also part of NASA's Lunar Trailblazer mission to map the water cycle on the moon, scheduled to launch in 2025.