Our Place in Space: Shackleton Crater

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Our Place in Space: A to Z!  For this year’s A to Z Challenge, I’ll be taking you on a partly imaginative and highly optimistic tour of humanity’s future in outer space.  If you don’t know what the A to Z Challenge is, click here to learn more.  In today’s post, S is for…

SHACKLETON CRATER

You would not expect to find water on the Moon.  If there ever was water on the Moon, you’d expect it to boil away into the vacuum of space pretty quickly.  And yet there is growing scientific evidence suggesting that craters near the Moon’s north and south poles are full of frozen water.  In the distant future, the most important and famous of these water-filled craters will be Shackleton Crater.

Shackleton Crater is about 21 kilometers across and 4 kilometers deep.  For the sake of comparison, the Grand Canyon is just shy of 2 kilometers deep.  What’s really important, though, is that Shackleton Crater is located almost perfectly at the Moon’s south pole.  As a result, it doesn’t matter what time it is—it doesn’t matter what part of the lunar day/night cycle it it—the bottom of Shackleton Crater is always shielded from sunlight by those 4 kilometer tall crater walls.  Always.

That makes the bottom of Shackleton Crater extremely dark.  More importantly, it makes the bottom of the crater extremely cold—cold enough to overcome water’s natural tendency to boil (or sublimate) in a vacuum.

Shackleton Crater is not unique in that respect.  There are over three hundred craters around the Moon’s north and south poles that are in a state of perpetual darkness.  Any or all of these eternally dark craters could have frozen water inside them.  So what makes Shackleton Crater so extra special?  Well, once again, the crater is located almost perfectly at the Moon’s south pole.  As a result, while the bottom of the crater is always in darkness, sections of the crater rim are always in sunlight.

This combination of perpetual sunlight up here and perpetual darkness down there makes Shackleton Crater the #1 most valuable piece of real estate on the Moon.  If you built a moon base at Shackleton Crater, you could set up solar panels along the crater rim while also having easy access to all that frozen water at the bottom of the crater.

I don’t generally like making “in the next twenty years” predictions, but in the next twenty years, there’s a good chance that somebody will land at Shackleton Crater and build some sort of scientific research station.  Perhaps there will be several research stations, clustered together, almost village-like.

In time, that village on the Moon will grow.  And it will keep growing.  In the distant future, it would not surprise me if Shackleton Crater eventually became one of humanity’s first off-world metropolises.

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14 thoughts on “Our Place in Space: Shackleton Crater

  1. Reading your blog makes me imagine all super celestial things..it would be so good to see people building something at shackle ton center but then with climate Google doodle today i thot we should first tackle the destruction in earth ,;( sigh

    Dropping by from a to z “The Pensive”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We really do need to take better care of our planet. Space exploration can help us do that. Spacecraft orbiting Earth help us monitor our planet’s vital signs. Missions to other planets have given us the ability to compare and contrast our world with others. Venus and Mars in particular have a lot in common with Earth, and yet they turned out radically different. Trying to understand why those other planets are so different has revealed a lot about how Earth works, geologically, chemically, and climatically speaking. That knowledge has already made us better stewards of our planet.

      The stuff I said about building huge cities on the Moon—that’s something for people in the distant future to do. Right now, all we can do is set up a small research station on the Moon. Shackleton Crater would be a great location to do it.

      I don’t know what we’d learn, but I do know the Moon most likely formed after something collided with the Earth. The Moon is basically a big piece of the Earth that got hurled up into space. So if our goal is to take better care of the Earth, the Moon may provide us valuable knowledge that would help us do that job better.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Awesome response 😀 I’m about to go to college for astronautical engineering and I’m always dreading how to answer the “what about our planet” questions.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s awesome! I’m really excited for you! There are naysayers for everything, but space exploration has done a lot of good for our planet, and it will continue to do so in the future. Be proud of what you’re doing!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. A few surprises turned up for me while I was researching this post. It had been a while since I’d really read up on the topic, and a whole bunch of new research had been published in the meantime.

      Like

  2. I love how an object so close to us like the Moon could have such extreme conditions like NO sunlight ever! That place must be so undisturbed by solar rays it’s like travelling back in time, which is especially cool since scientists think the Moon used to be a part of Earth. All the data and information in those craters is waiting to be discovered, we just need to look!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What an excellent name for somewhere which could have an important role to play in our race’s future. We can but hope.

    BTW, thank you for the information about the moon likely being a bit which got knocked off the earth – I’d not heard that before, but it makes sense.

    Debs visiting this year from
    Making Yourself Relationship Ready

    Liked by 1 person

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