Spectacular visions of the Earth and Moon captured by lunar orbiter

NASA preparing for a long-term presence on the Moon

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Stunning monochrome captures of the Earth and the Moon taken by South Korea’s first-ever lunar orbiter have been released by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). The £146million Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO) is officially known as Danuri — a portmanteau of the Korean words for “Moon” and “enjoy”. It launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket back in August of last year.

Two of the photos show the marble of the Earth over the lunar landscape — shots reminiscent of the iconic Earthrise image taken by NASA’s William Anders on the Apollo 8 mission back in 1968.

A spokesperson for KARI said: “These photos were taken using the high-resolution camera (LUTI) mounted on Danuri. You can clearly see the lunar craters and the Earth.”

The images were taken on December 24 and December 28, at altitudes of 214 and 77 miles above the Moon’s surface.

LUTI — short for the Lunar Terrain Imager — was developed to take high-resolution images of potential landing sites for a future lunar exploration mission.

More recent images show the Earth higher in the lunar sky — and also on its own.

KARI tweeted: “Danuri sent me Earth-Moon photos taken on December 31, 2022 and January 1, 2023, the first day of the New Year.”

KARI added: “Danuri is currently conducting work such as checking the performance of payloads and adjusting errors.”

The lunar orbiter, they added, “is scheduled to carry out full-scale science and technology missions from February.”

Danuri’s planned programme of scientific research will include mapping and analysing the lunar terrain, as well as taking measurements of local magnetic fields and gamma rays.

The orbiter’s achievements so far, however, have already been hailed as a “historic moment” for South Korea’s space programme by President Yoon Suk-yeol.

Alongside LUTI, Danuri carries five other science instruments — four developed in South Korea and one by engineers at NASA.

These include the Wide-Angle Polarmetric Camera, which will image the majority of the Moon’s surface in order to investigate the nature of the lunar regolith, and a gamma-ray spectrometer which will probe the chemical composition of surface materials.

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Danuri’s on-board magnetometer, meanwhile, will measure the magnetic strength of the lunar environment up to 62 miles above the Moon’s surface.

And the Delay-Tolerant Networking experiment (DTNPL) will conduct communication tests for a form of so-called “interplanetary Internet”.

Finally, NASA’s “ShadowCam” will search for evidence of water ice deposits by mapping the Moon’s permanently shadowed regions.

Water ice is of considerable scientific interest because it could be broken down into its oxygen and hydrogen components — providing both life-sustaining air and potential fuel.

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