We can see the moon, at least in parts, hanging in the sky every night. But one part of the moon we will never be able to see from earth is its north pole. But thanks to the camera known as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and 983 wide-angle photographs, we now have a composite image of the lunar North Pole.
Unlike our north pole, it doesn’t seem to house Santa and his elves, but it does appear to have craters around the pole that appear to spiral out from it. However, this is merely an optical illusion, according to Mark Robinson, the principle investigator of the LRO team based at Arizona State University, due to the fact that the images were taken over the course of a month from different angles causing changes in sun and shadow direction.
The image of the moon’s North Pole was taken “during northern summer,” according to NASA, because it is the time when the pole is best illuminated. Still, there are dark areas seen in the image, like those along the rims of the craters and around the immediate vicinity of the pole, which are likely permanently dark.
One of the goals of the moon-orbiting mission is to hunt for water ice and other materials that could help future human explorers establish a permanent base. The LRO has previously found evidence of water ice in the South Pole craters left untouched by the sun in 2009 and so the same may also exist in the North Pole craters left in shadows.
So not only are we getting a view of the moon we normally wouldn’t, but the explorers may be receiving helpful information as well. Hopefully there’s nothing too frightening up there, though, because Apollo 18 already left us a bit weary of the moon…