Pragyan is taking a nap. What did the rover find?

The Pragyan rover on the surface of the moon. (Isro)
The Pragyan rover on the surface of the moon. (Isro)


What significance do its observations carry, and where’s the water? Mint explains

Chandrayaan-3 made India the first nation to soft-land on the lunar south pole region. It has disclosed a number of key observations since its 23 August touchdown. What significance do its observations carry, and where’s the water? Mint explains:

How successful was Chandrayaan-3?

On 28 August, the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) confirmed that the Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) instrument on the Pragyan rover has discovered the presence of aluminium, sulphur, calcium, iron, chromium, titanium, manganese, silicon and oxygen on the moon. The Vikram lander also recorded a ‘moonquake’ on the lunar surface on 26 August, and found a super-thin layer of plasma in the lunar atmosphere—thereby suggesting that the moon’s atmospheric characteristics, and the way objects there would react to solar flares, are very different from what we see on the earth.

What’s been the key observation?

Finding sulphur on the moon, as this can help us understand the origins of the moon, as well as its past surface conditions. Scientists say the presence of significant amounts of sulphur will help us understand volcanic activity on the moon, which in turn could point toward subterranean lunar water. Some believe sulphur could indicate if the moon may have supported life in the past. It could also come in handy for making bricks—key to a future human base there. Sulphur can also be potentially trapped in water ice, suggesting that following its traces may lead us to a potentially monumental moon water discovery.

Does that mean we’re closer to finding the elusive water?

Hard to say at this point. We need to study the moon’s elemental composition to understand where the water could be. Pragyan’s findings can be crucial in this regard. In particular, the discovery of sulphur and oxygen on the moon’s surface is extremely critical in moving toward such a discovery. Isro was also working toward finding hydrogen.

What have other space powers found?

Two of the biggest discoveries in the past year have come from China’s Chang’e 5 mission. One is a new lunar mineral, Changesite-(Y), and the other is water locked in glass beads from a lunar sample. This made China the third nation to find a new moon mineral, after the US and the former Soviet Union. Chandrayaan-3’s sulphur observation could lead us closer to detecting more such beads. Nasa, in 2009 and 2020, had confirmed the presence of lunar water in shadowed craters and sunlit regions.

Is the Chandrayaan-3 mission now over?

The primary objectives of Chandrayaan-3 have been achieved, and at 10pm on Saturday, Isro confirmed the rover has been put to ‘sleep’. This will help conserve power for further use. The rover’s solar panels will receive light on the next lunar sunrise on 22 September, following which ground control will try to reactivate it for further observations. Space missions can surpass objectives—Isro’s AstroSat space observatory, launched with a lifespan of five years in 2015, remains operational.

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