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Your moon base here? Sun-washed crater rim has big vistas, but little water.

A team using observations from a lunar orbiter studied 'the living daylights' out of the Shackleton Crater, near the moon's South Pole. Their findings suggest scant water would be available to supply a lunar base there.

De Gerlache Crater, Shackleton Crater, Sverdrup Crater, Shoemaker Crater, Faustini Crater, Cabeus Crater, and Nobile Crater, as imaged by NASA

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

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If you want to set up a base on the moon, and if plenty of local water-ice is a must, you may want to scratch Shackleton Crater from the list of possible locations.

That is the implication of a new study based on observations from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).

As a site for a lunar base, the rim of Shackleton has a lot going for it. Positioned at the moon's South Pole and just off center of the moon's slightly tilted axis of rotation, the crater's rim receives sunlight for virtually an entire lunar "day," 27.32 Earth days.

That's important for minimizing exposure to the frigid temperatures of the moon's nearly 14-day "night" at lower latitudes – think 243 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The sunlight also provides a near-continuous source of energy to power a moon base. Indeed, some researchers have proposed building a large infrared telescope – best served chilled – on the crater's shadowed floor and powering it with solar arrays on the rim.

For its part, water is desirable not only for human survival, but also as a source of hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel. Observations over the past 15 years, however, have proved inconclusive regarding the presence of water ice at Shackleton.

The latest LRO data indicate "that water is not there ... in a way that would facilitate human exploration," says planetary scientist Maria Zuber, who led the team analyzing the data.

If the signatures the team saw in the soils on the crater floor do indicate water, how much water might there be? Roughly 100 gallons – enough to fill two or three residential rain barrels – spread over a surface of about 133 square miles. Leave the swim-suit at home.


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