In the vast cosmic expanse, our celestial neighbor, the Moon, has always fascinated humanity. With its rugged surface and enigmatic charm, it invites us to explore its mysteries. India’s space agency, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), recently added another chapter to lunar exploration with its successful Chandrayaan-3 mission.
In this blog, we will discuss the mission’s groundbreaking findings made close to the Moon’s south pole, which shed light on the lunar ionosphere, temperature variations in lunar soil, a possible moonquake, and the presence of sulfur.
One of Chandrayaan-3’s primary objectives was to study the Moon’s ionosphere near the south pole. The lunar ionosphere is a thin, electrically charged plasma layer surrounding the Moon’s surface. Initial measurements made by the Vikram lander’s probe revealed a “relatively sparse” mix of ions and electrons in this region.
Electron Density in Lunar Atmosphere
The electron density ranged from approximately 5 million to 30 million electrons per cubic meter. Compared to Earth’s upper atmosphere, where the peak electron density is around one million electrons per cubic centimeter, the Moon’s ionosphere is significantly less dense.
This discovery has crucial implications for future lunar communication and navigation systems. Higher electron densities would lead to longer signal travel times through the ionosphere, potentially causing delays.
However, the sparse plasma near the Moon’s south pole indicates that these delays would be minimal, ensuring efficient transmission.
Lunar Soil: A Thermally Complex World Below the Surface
Understanding the lunar soil’s thermal properties is paramount for planning future lunar settlements. The soil serves as an in-situ resource for construction and provides valuable insights into the Moon’s geological history.
Chandrayaan-3’s Vikram lander is equipped with a temperature probe containing ten sensors and has embarked on a mission to uncover these thermal secrets. Preliminary data from the temperature probe revealed intriguing temperature variations with depth.
Some Facts about the moon’s surface
- The temperature difference is a result of inefficient heat conduction from the sunlit surface.
- Just 8 centimeters below the lunar surface, the temperature during the lunar day is about 60°C lower than at the surface.
- These measurements contradict NASA’s 2009 findings, indicating that the lunar surface is warmer than initially thought.
However, the data still shows that temperatures are “far too warm for water ice to be stable. Water on the moon readily converts from solid to gas at extremely low temperatures in the vacuum of space (approximately -160°C).
Chandrayaan-3’s measurements indicate temperatures warmer than -10°C at all depths sampled, with expectations of temperatures leveling out at around -80°C further down.
Moonquake or Meteorite Impact: Vibrations on the Lunar Surface
The lunar surface is not as serene as it appears. It experiences occasional seismic events, and Chandrayaan-3’s lander captured a noteworthy one. The lander’s seismograph recorded a small seismic event that lasted about four seconds before returning to background levels.
Planetary geochemists suspect that this event could be a small moonquake or the result of a tiny meteorite impact. Such events are expected on the moon due to various factors, including small impacts and local tectonic adjustments linked to tidal forces.
To truly understand the significance of these events, comprehensive observations and a global seismic network on the moon are needed.
Sulfur’s Enigmatic Presence: Clues to Lunar Geological History
One of the most significant results of Chandrayaan-3’s mission is the confirmation of sulfur’s presence on the lunar surface near the south pole. Sulfur is a volatile element not typically expected in lunar soil. Its confirmation carries significant importance for lunar science.
Sulfur plays a crucial role in understanding the moon’s geological history. It is a critical component of molten rock, and scientists speculate that the early Moon was covered with a thick layer of hot molten rock, which eventually solidified to form the Moon’s surface.
Measurements of sulfur concentrations can provide invaluable insights into this geological process. However, it’s also plausible that sulfur came from asteroid impacts bombarding the moon’s surface. Chandrayaan-3’s findings complement those of the US Apollo missions, enhancing our collective understanding of the Moon’s geochemistry.
Chandrayaan-3’s Journey: Mission Overview
Before we dive further into these remarkable discoveries, let’s revisit Chandrayaan-3’s journey. The mission achieved a successful soft landing, marking a significant milestone for India’s space endeavors. The lunar south pole, cloaked in shadow as the moon orbits, became the stage for the Pragyan rover and Vikram Lander’s scientific exploration.
ISRO, the visionary behind this mission, diligently monitored the modules’ health. The Pragyan rover, having covered 100 meters of uncharted lunar terrain, nestled into “sleep mode” with a full charge. Similarly, the Vikram Lander, responsible for ferrying the rover to the Moon, also entered a state of rest, awaiting reawakening around September 22.
As both of these celestial heroes slumber, their rest is vital to enduring the upcoming lunar night, which brings extreme cold and darkness. These machines, sent on a mission of scientific exploration and discovery, are poised to awaken with the promise of a new lunar day, ready to continue their service to their home country.
Chandrayaan-3 made many significant discoveries on the moon, including the presence of water and sulfur and the occurrence of moonquakes on the moon. Let’s explore the discoveries Chandrayaan-3 made in the month of August 2023.
August 26: ILSA’s Lunar Vibrations
The Moon is a complex world, and ISRO aimed to understand what makes it tremble. The Vikram Lander installed the Instrument for Lunar Seismic Activity (ILSA) system to actively record even the slightest ground vibrations on the lunar surface, whether resulting from earthquakes, impacts, or other phenomena.
Following the Pragyan rover’s movements, ILSA recorded unexpected “seemingly natural” vibrations lasting several seconds. ISRO scientists are currently investigating the origins of these lunar tremors.
August 27: ChaSTE’s Thermal Revelations
Barely a week after touchdown, the Vikram Lander embarked on another mission, deploying Chandra’s Surface Thermophysical Experiment (ChaSTE) payload. Its goal is to measure the thermal behavior beneath the lunar surface. The initial readings left ISRO scientists astonished.
While the lunar surface, bathed in sunlight, reached a scorching 50°C just a mere 1-2 centimeters below the surface, temperatures soared to 60–70 °C before plummeting to a frigid -10°C a mere 8 centimeters down. This drastic 50°C variation beneath the lunar surface poses intriguing questions about its mechanisms, which remain under investigation.
August 28: Pragyan’s Rock-and-Roll Adventure
Rock analysis is a lunar specialty, and the Pragyan rover is an expert in the field. Armed with the Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy payload, Pragyan’s mission was to break down lunar rocks into plasma using powerful lasers and analyze their elemental composition spectrally.
ISRO confirmed the presence of sulfur, an element typically associated with volcanic activity. This discovery brings us closer to understanding the Moon’s volcanic history, especially in light of China’s recent findings regarding signs of volcanic movement beneath the lunar surface.
Furthermore, Chandrayaan-3’s measurements on the Moon’s south pole represent a significant achievement, offering insights into various elements, including aluminum, iron, calcium, chromium, titanium, manganese, oxygen, and silicon.
August 31: RAMBHA-LP’s Plasma Insights
As close as the Moon is to Earth, their atmospheres couldn’t be more different. The lunar atmosphere, or lack thereof, presents unique challenges for lunar missions. To unravel the mysteries of the lunar atmosphere, Vikram Lander carried the Radio Anatomy of the Moon-bound Hypersensitive Ionosphere and Atmosphere-LLangmuir Probe, or the RAMBHA-LP.
This mouthful of a probe conducted the first in-situ measurements of plasma near the lunar surface in the south-polar region, unveiling fascinating results. RAMBHA-LP revealed that lunar plasma is sparse, especially during lunar daytime.
This is excellent news for technology that establishes radio wave communication on the Moon, as sparse plasma minimizes interference. The payload’s observations will be invaluable in refining future lunar communication technologies.
The Promise of Lunar Exploration: What Lies Ahead
Chandrayaan-3’s journey is a testament to human ingenuity and curiosity. With each discovery, we draw closer to unraveling the Moon’s mysteries. From the enigmatic lunar ionosphere to the tantalizing presence of sulfur in the soil, our understanding of Earth’s celestial companion deepens.
As we await the awakening of Vikram and Pragyan for another day of scientific exploration, we can’t help but wonder what future lunar missions will reveal. The Moon, our constant celestial companion, continues to inspire exploration and discovery, promising a treasure trove of knowledge for generations to come.
In conclusion, Chandrayaan-3’s remarkable discoveries near the Moon’s south pole are a testament to human curiosity and determination. These findings, from the ionosphere’s secrets to the lunar soil’s temperature variations, offer a glimpse into the complex lunar world. With each revelation, we move one step closer to understanding the Moon’s enigmatic past and its potential role in our future endeavors beyond Earth.
As we continue to explore the cosmos, one thing remains certain: the Moon, with its timeless beauty, will always be a source of fascination, inspiration, and discovery. Chandrayaan-3’s mission is just one chapter in our ongoing quest to unveil the secrets of the universe, and it has left us eagerly anticipating the next revelations from Earth’s cherished satellite.
What is Pragyan in Chandrayaan 3?
The Chandrayaan-3’s rover, Pragyan, has traversed over 100 meters from the lander Vikram on the surface of the moon. The lander and the rover, with a mission life of one Lunar day (14 Earth days), have scientific payloads to carry out experiments on the lunar surface.
What are Vikram and Pragyan in Chandrayaan-3?
Launched on July 14, 2023, the mission consists of a lunar lander named Vikram and a lunar rover named Pragyan, similar to those launched aboard Chandrayaan-2 in 2019. SATCAT No. Chandrayaan-3 was launched from Satish Dhawan Space Center on July 14, 2023.
Where was the Chandrayaan-1 crash named after which person?
Following the 2008 mission Chandrayaan-1, a spot where the probe crashed (as it was meant to for the purposes of the mission), was named “Jawahar Sthal” after the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.
Where is Chandrayaan-3?
India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission landed on the moon on Aug. 23. There was no guarantee that the lander would make it in one piece. A previous Indian vehicle crashed in 2019 as it headed to the lunar surface, as did spacecraft from Russia and a Japanese company this year.