Just a week after India made history by becoming the first country to land on the moon’s south pole, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has confirmed that the Pragyan rover has already conducted its first ground tests.
Its instruments were able to confirm the presence of sulfur, a compound known to be present in the region thanks to orbiters but which has not been directly detected so far. “The Laser Induced Decay Spectroscopy (LIBS) instrument on board the Chandrayaan-3 rover has made the first in situ measurements of the elemental composition of the lunar surface near the South Pole,” ISRO said in a statement. “These in situ measurements clearly confirm the presence of sulfur (S) in the region, which was not possible with the instruments on board the orbiters.”
Preliminary analyses also indicate the presence of aluminum, iron, calcium, chromium, and titanium, as well as manganese, silicon, and oxygen. “A thorough investigation into the presence of hydrogen is being conducted,” ISRO said.
The small vehicle weighs only 29 kilos and is about the size of a small German shepherd. It is equipped not only with the laser-based LIBS tool but also with an alpha particle beam. LIBS is able to detect elements by firing intense lasers at the lunar surface, creating hot plasma. By studying the light from this plasma, researchers can identify the wavelengths of different particles on that particular part of the moon.
The water at the south pole of the moon
Although China, Russia, and the United States have landed on the moon, none of them have landed on the South Pole, a place believed to be rich in water ice, the key element confirmed by the Indian mission. They still have at least a week and a half to do this (a lunar day corresponds to 14 earth days), after which their batteries will switch off.
Frozen water could be incredibly valuable if found on the lunar surface, as it could one day be used to produce breathable oxygen for future lunar bases and could also provide ingredients for rocket fuel that could help launch missions to Mars.