doi:10.1038/nindia.2016.59 Published online 15 May 2016
By using data from a Moon-orbiting spacecraft, researchers have developed a technique that can detect small impact craters on the Moon1. Since craters harbour useful information about the past lunar geological processes, the technique will help determine their age and those of other surface features on the Moon as well as on similar celestial bodies.
Small impact craters are abundant on the lunar surface. They pose a danger to the safe landing of future spacecraft.
To establish an efficient technique for detecting small lunar impact craters, the researchers developed an object-based classification technique by using a digital terrain model produced by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
The spacecraft captured images of the Moon’s nearside surface, which contains lava-filled flat basins and both small and large impact craters. The technique detected 2,345 impact craters at a training site and 844 impact craters at a testing site, thus validating its efficiency.
The technique identified both small (the smallest had a diameter of 29 metres) and large impact craters (the largest 1,555 metres in diameter). It also successfully spotted 819 impact craters in the undulating terrain of lunar highlands.
The method automatically detected lunar impact craters of different sizes with a 95% accuracy, suggesting that it could be used to detect circular impact craters on the Moon and Mars, the researchers say.
1. Vamshi, G. T. et al. An object-based classification method for automatic detection of lunar impact craters from topographic data. Adv. Space Res. 57, 1978−1988 (2016)