Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Clear Night 59° Clear
News >  Nation/World

Moon’s craters are coldest in system

This image provided by NASA shows the crater called Faustini, upper center, on the south pole of the moon, where temperatures reached 397 degrees below zero.   (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
This image provided by NASA shows the crater called Faustini, upper center, on the south pole of the moon, where temperatures reached 397 degrees below zero. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Seth Borenstein Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Astronomers have found the coldest spot in our solar system and it may be a little close for comfort. It’s on our moon, right nearby.

NASA’s new Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is making the first complete temperature map of the moon. It found that at the moon’s south pole, it’s colder than faraway Pluto. The area is inside craters that are permanently shadowed so they never see sun.

“It’s sort of like a faint glow and that’s your only source of heat,” said David Paige, a University of California, Los Angeles, scientist who is part of the NASA team. “Right here in our own backyard are definitely the coldest things we’ve seen in real measurements.”

Temperatures there were measured at 397 degrees below zero. That’s just 62 degrees higher than the lowest temperature possible.

Pluto is at least a degree warmer even though it is about 40 times farther away from the sun.

The coldest temperatures on the moon were usually in craters that were within bigger craters, hiding farther from the sun, Paige said.

Soon, the moon’s south pole will slightly warm up with the change of seasons and the north pole will get chillier, he said.

That ultra-cold temperature is important because it can trap volatile chemicals, such as water and methane, said NASA probe project scientist Richard Vondrak. Trapped volatiles would give any future astronauts resources to mine and could help scientists understand more about the origin of the early solar system, he said.

The moon probe, only a week into its science mission, has also found lots of indications of hydrogen, which could indicate trapped ice below the moon’s surface, Vondrak said.

While NASA has been to the moon with astronauts and explored it many times decades ago, this is the first close-up look in about a decade and is focusing on the tantalizing south pole, where there is the best chance for hidden ice.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.