New York, Jan 17 (IANS) India's first unmanned moon mission, Chandrayaan-1, is providing scientists with the first look inside the moon's coldest and darkest craters, US space agency NASA has said.
The NASA radar on board the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft has sent back its first images which 'show the floors of permanently-shadowed polar craters on the moon that aren't visible from Earth,' NASA said in a press release.
'Scientists are using the instrument to map and search the insides of the craters for water ice,' it said.
The NASA radar is a Mini-SAR (Mini Synthetic Aperture Radar) instrument, a lightweight, synthetic aperture radar. It is one of the 11 instruments carried by Chandrayaan which blasted off from Sriharikota spaceport in India's Andhra Pradesh state Oct 22, 2008.
'The only way to explore such areas is to use an orbital imaging radar such as Mini-SAR,' said Benjamin Bussey, deputy principal investigator for Mini-SAR, from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
'This is an exciting first step for the team which has worked diligently for more than three years to get to this point.'
The images, taken Nov 17 last year, cover part of the Haworth crater at the moon's south pole and the western rim of Seares crater, an impact feature near the north pole.
Bright areas in each image represent either surface roughness or slopes pointing toward the spacecraft. Further data collection by Mini-SAR and analysis will help scientists determine if buried ice deposits exist in the permanently shadowed craters near the moon's poles.
'During the next few months we expect to have a fully calibrated and operational instrument collecting valuable science data at the moon,' said Jason Crusan, programme executive for the Mini-RF (miniature radio frequency) programme for NASA's Space Operations Mission Directorate in Washington.