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The Moon Portal

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The Moon is Earth's only natural satellite and is the fifth largest satellite in the Solar System. It is the largest natural satellite in the Solar System relative to the size of its planet, a quarter the diameter of Earth and 1/81 its mass, and is the second densest satellite after Io. It is in synchronous rotation with Earth, always showing the same face; the near side is marked with dark volcanic maria among the bright ancient crustal highlands and prominent impact craters. It is the brightest object in the sky after the Sun, although its surface is actually very dark, with a similar reflectance to coal. Its prominence in the sky and its regular cycle of phases have since ancient times made the Moon an important cultural influence on language, the calendar, art and mythology. The Moon's gravitational influence produces the ocean tides and the minute lengthening of the day. The Moon's current orbital distance, about thirty times the diameter of the Earth, causes it to be the same size in the sky as the Sun—allowing the Moon to cover the Sun precisely in total solar eclipses.

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Shackleton is an impact crater that lies at the south pole of the Moon. The peaks along the crater's rim are exposed to almost continual sunlight, while the interior is perpetually in shadow. The low-temperature interior of this crater functions as a cold trap that may capture and freeze volatiles shed during comet impacts on the Moon. Measurements by the Lunar Prospector spacecraft showed higher than normal amounts of hydrogen within the crater, which may indicate the presence of water ice. The crater is named after Ernest Shackleton, a noted Anglo-Irish explorer of the Antarctic.

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Earthrise, as seen by Apollo 8
Credit: William Anders

"Earthrise," the first occasion in which humans saw the Earth seemingly rising above the surface of the Moon, taken during the Apollo 8 mission on December 24, 1968. This view was seen by the crew at the beginning of its fourth orbit around the Moon, although the very first photograph taken was in black-and-white. Note that the Earth is in shadow here. A photo of a fully lit Earth would not be taken until the Apollo 17 mission.

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Aerial photo of the Descartes Highlands with features and Apollo 16 mission traverses labeled.

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