- In August, India became the first country to successfully land near the moon’s south pole.
- Since touchdown, the moon lander and rover have already made some important discoveries.
- The various suite of scientific instruments on board has found sulfur and even a possible moonquake.
India’s mission to the moon made history last month when the country became the first to successfully land near the lunar south pole. But landing was just the beginning.
Both the mission’s Vikram lander and its adorable dog-sized Pragyan rover wasted no time in studying the lunar south pole region with the suite of scientific instruments they brought with them.
1. Presence of sulfur
One of Pragyan’s first discoveries was confirming the presence of sulfur on the lunar surface, a feat that was not previously possible from orbiting satellites, the Indian Space Research Organization said in a press release.
The rover fired intense laser pulses at the lunar surface with its Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy instrument. The laser then generated a hot, bright plasma. Scientists then study the light from that plasma to identify the various elements in the sample, like sulfur.
2. Other elements found on the surface
It’s not just sulfur — in preliminary analyses, Pragyan has also detected the presence of aluminum, calcium, iron, chromium, and titanium. And ISRO said that it’s also hunting for the presence of hydrogen.
The rover’s discoveries could help scientists figure out how to mine water on the moon, an advancement that would be critical for future lunar bases.
After all, the lunar poles are some of the most water-rich regions on the moon. They contain enough water ice to fill at least 240,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, per The Planetary Society.
3. A potential moonquake
Three days after landing on the moon, the Instrument for Lunar Seismic Activity (ILSA) payload on the Vikram lander detected an “event,” ISRO said in a statement.
The rumblings could be evidence of a moonquake, Live Science reported.
ILSA is designed to detect vibrations on the lunar surface, and this “event” was significant compared to the soft rumblings it had measured from the rover driving around on the surface.
“The source of this event is currently under investigation,” ISRO said in the statement.
4. Temperature changes underground
Vikram has also measured the soil temperature near the lunar south pole both on the surface and underground, for the first time.
Scientists hope it will help them understand the moon’s thermal behavior, ISRO said.
5. First measurement of the moon’s ionosphere
Another device on the Vikram lander called the Langmuir probe, which helps characterize plasma, has been able to measure the density and temperature of the moon’s ionosphere for the first time, Nature reported.
There’s still a lot to be learned about the moon’s south pole region. Right now the solar-powered Vikram lander and its rover are scheduled to reawaken later this month after a 14-day night.