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Orbiting Atlas #1!: Sinus Iridum (The Bay of Rainbows) December 15, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in Chang'e, China, Google Moon, Orbiting Atlas, selenography.
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Welcome to my brand new weekly feature—Orbiting Atlas! Each Monday, I’ll break out my lunar globe and trek to a different selenographic point of interest, giving you a tour of each location’s features, history, and potential :)

The first entry gets the honor for being in the news recently…so without further ado:

Sinus Iridum—The Bay of Rainbows

China announced a few weeks ago that the destination for it’s first lunar rover (and mission of any kind on the surface), Chang’e-3, will be Sinus Iridum. NASA and private enterprise have focused more on the solar-soaked South Pole and helium-3-happy Mare Tranquillitatis, so Sinus Iridum is an interesting choice, and something of a departure.

What about it may have caught China’s eye? Let’s look at the details…

The circular “Bay”—given its name by Italian astronomer Giovanni Riccioli–is ringed by the Montes Jura, with the cape-like Promontorium Laplace jutting out along the northeast. The Bay has a diameter of ~149 miles, and lays at the northwest corner of the large, western plain Mare Imbrium, about 1,225 miles northwest of the Apollo 11 landing site and 620 miles northwest of the Apollo 15 site.

Mare Imbrium’s lava plains are nearly flat, extending into Sinus Iridum (once a crater, with the southeast wall having been eliminated in an Imbrium event). These plains are prime territory for helium-3, and that stretch where there was once the southeastern wall may make for a revealing geological study.

It’s figured there’s a large amount of helium-3 on the Moon, but the distribution is unknown—so by scouting out a different mare, China could dig up valuable information on a region not already targeted for ‘gold rush’. Perhaps we’ll see a private company follow the Chinese lead, and scope it out for themselves…

Sinus Imbrium was a location filmed in 2007 by Japan’s orbiter, Kaguya, and it’s HDTV camera. Check out the amazing video below (and also be sure to explore the Bay in Google Earth 5.0’s spiffy Moon view!):

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Check back next week, and every monday, for more selenographic exploration :)

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