The Indian lunar rover has become the first to find chemical elements at the south pole of the moon.
Chandrayaan-3 detected sulfur in lunar soil, which one expert said could reveal more about the origins of our lunar neighbor.
The Chinese space agency said this is the first time that sulfur in the south of the moon has been found “in situ” – that is, in the place where it is located, rather than being detected from a distance by an orbiter.
Chandrayaan-3 has also found aluminum, calcium, iron, chromium, titanium, manganese, silicon and oxygen, while the search for hydrogen is now underway.
Chandrayaan-3 has been on the lunar surface for a week, after its triumphant landing on Aug. 23 sent India into a state of elation.
Read more Watch the Chandrayaan-3 rover make its way toward the Moon
The discovery of the elements was announced by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) on X (formerly Twitter).
This was achieved with the rover’s “Laser Induced Breakdown Spectrometer” (LIBS) – a small instrument that can measure element concentrations in solid, liquid or air samples.
“The laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) instrument aboard the Chandrayaan-3 rover has made the first-ever in situ measurements of the elemental composition of the lunar surface near the south pole.” ISRO said in the post.
“These in situ measurements unequivocally confirm the presence of sulfur in the region, which was not possible with instruments on board the orbiters.”
Sarah Russell, professor of planetary sciences at the Natural History Museum in London, said the rover’s discovery had “really important implications” for both researchers and astronauts.
She told MailOnline: “Sulfur is usually associated with important metals such as iron and nickel, and these could be important ores that future astronauts could use to enable them to live and work on the moon.”
“We already know that the moon contains sulfur, from our analyzes of rocks returned from the moon by space missions, and from lunar meteorites.
Read more Is this how the moon was formed?
“What we don’t really know is the distribution and abundance of sulfur on the moon.
“This has really important implications for understanding the way the moon evolved.
“For example, how much sulfur was lost when the moon first formed in a giant impact, and today how do the different rock layers of the moon differ in their composition?”
ISRO has been tweeting regular updates on the progress of its Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft in the past week.
Chandrayaan-3 consisted of a long-legged fixed lander (called “Vikram”) and a wheeled rover (“Pragyan”).
The rover was flown to the moon on the lander, but just one day after landing on a relatively flat spot between craters Manzinus C and Simpelius N, the rover launched its mother module and began exploring.
Since then, the moon has sent back stunning images of the lunar south region, more than 200,000 miles from Earth.
Read more Why are countries racing to the south pole of the moon?
One such shot Posted on X by ISRO on Monday It shows a 13-foot (4 m) diameter crater placed directly in front of the rover, blocking its path.
Had the rover not detected the huge trench, it could have fallen into it and flipped over, prematurely ending its mission.
Fortunately, ISRO said, the vehicle was ordered to re-track and is now safely heading to a new lane.
Another beautiful photo taken by the rover and Posted on X on Wedshows the mother lander Vikram in front of a rugged patch of lunar soil.
Last week, India captured the world’s attention with its Chandrayaan-3 mission, but it is already halfway to completion.
The science instruments on both the lander and the rover will only be active for one lunar day (14 Earth days) before losing power, which is a relatively short mission.
Once the time period expires, the spacecraft and lander will become inactive on the Moon and the mission will end.
Chandrayaan-3’s instruments will end their days covered in lunar dust, although it’s not impossible that manned missions to our natural moon will be able to recover their parts for reuse.
India set itself in the record books last week when it successfully landed on the moon’s south pole, four years after its predecessor, Chandrayaan-2, failed in the same goal.
Although India is the fourth country after the United States, Russia and China to land a spacecraft safely on the lunar surface, it made history as the first country to do so on the lunar south pole.
Russia attempted to land a spacecraft on the south side of the moon on August 19, but it failed miserably when it spiraled out of control and crashed, leaving the way open for India to achieve the feat instead.
Chandrayaan-3 actually left Earth more than a month ago, aboard a rocket from the Satish Dhawan Space Center north of Chennai on July 14.
The Indian spacecraft took longer to reach the moon than the Apollo missions, which arrived in a matter of days, because the Asian country uses much less powerful rockets.
China and the United States will follow India’s success with their own attempts to land at the south pole of the Moon
Besides India and Russia, China and the United States are also in the race to put a spacecraft on the lunar south pole.
Although India is winning the race to be the first, the other three countries are expected to become the second country to do so later this decade.
The Chinese robotic exploration mission Chang’e 7, scheduled for 2026, has the south pole of the Moon as its destination.
Meanwhile, the US Artemis program run by NASA, which is not satisfied with just landing an unmanned robotic instrument on the south of the moon, wants to send humans instead.
The Artemis III mission, which will land the first woman and first person of color on the moon, is scheduled to take place in 2025, but NASA recently admitted that this could be delayed.
Russia’s attempt to be the first to land at the South Pole – Luna 25 – failed just days before India set the record.
The Russia mission – a follow-up to Luna 24 in 1976 – fails when it spirals out of control and crashes.
Valery Egorov, a former researcher for Russia’s space program who now lives in exile, said the accident would severely affect Roscosmos’ future missions, with the next not planned until 2028 or “even later.”
India has a relatively low-budget space programme, but it has grown exponentially in size and momentum since it sent its first probe into lunar orbit in 2008 (Chandrayaan-1).
The cost of its Chandrayaan-3 mission is $74.6 million, which is much lower than other nations’ costs, which is a testament to India’s frugal space engineering.
Experts say India is able to keep costs down by imitating and adapting existing space technology, thanks to an abundance of highly skilled engineers who earn a fraction of the wages of their foreign counterparts.
And in 2014, India became the first Asian country to put a satellite into orbit around Mars, and is set to launch a three-day manned mission to Earth orbit by next year.
India is also working with the Japan Aerospace Agency (JAXA) on Chandrayaan-4, which will also land on the south of the Moon but will have a much longer lifetime.
Chandrayaan-4 is tentatively scheduled to launch in 2025 or 2026.
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