Thursday, October 21, 2021

Scientists can gaze into the moon’s deepest craters only with the help of AI

Moon has no dark side. But there are dark spots on it – especially at the bottom of the craters that never reach any sunlight, no matter where the Moon is facing.

These regions have puzzled scientists for decades, in no small part because the lack of sunlight means lower temperatures, which keep frozen material frozen. In other words, they may contain water in the Thar Crater. And water will be the lifeblood of any future permanent manned lunar mission.

Unfortunately, the lack of sunlight also means it’s challenging to see what lies beneath those craters.

The closest scientists came was when NASA’s Moon mission LCROSS fired a projectile at Cabus Crater and analyzed the resulting dust cloud, which contained a relatively high amount of water.

But so far no one has been able to directly visualize the water in those pits.

This does not mean that the craters are illuminated at all. Even when they are not in direct sunlight, reflected sunlight, some of which may have sprung from nearby hills, still streams into the crater.

But any image captured using that reflected light “noises” to create any detailed features.

Enter a new technology developed by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany.

They used an AI algorithm called Hyper-Effective Noise Removal U-Net Software (HORUS). HORUS’s primary goal is to “clean up” noisy images beneath unlit craters collected by other spacecraft, such as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).

up: An as yet unnamed crater. The left image shows a photograph taken by LRO. Its interior is almost not visible. The right image shows the same image after it was processed with HORUS. (Left: NASA/LROC/GSFC/ASU; Right: MPS/University of Oxford/NASA Ames Research Center/FDL/SETI Institute)

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In addition to removing noise, the software must also correct for other factors, such as the speed of the LRO.

Despite such difficulties, the researchers used 70,000 images from LRO to calibrate the software, which were then dispersed over 17 different permanently dark regions at the lunar south pole.

The largest area studied was 54 sq km (20 sq mi), while the smallest area was a mere 0.18 sq km.

With the new software, the image below the crater has been greatly improved. Unfortunately, the photos show no direct evidence of water, such as bright spots indicating ice.

However, any crewed mission that wants to look for water in or under the regoliths of these craters will first need to know what area it is entering.

HORUSStudyMoon Crater

up: Some of the craters at the lunar south pole that were part of the study. (MPS/University of Oxford/NASA Ames Research Center/FDL/SETI Institute)

Defining the terrain where Horus shines – researchers can pinpoint geological features a few meters across, which could potentially be dangerous to the lander or rover.

This was the first step towards discovering these previously invisible parts of the Moon. With luck, someday, humans will be able to explore these regions safely, and with even more luck, they may find the source of an essential component of all Earth-bound life.

This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article.

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