ANTARIKSA — India’s Chandrayaan-3 lander successfully landed 600 km from the south pole of the Moon on August 23, 2023.
In less than 14 Earth days, Chandrayaan-3 provided scientists with valuable new data. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has shared these preliminary results with the world.
Data from the Chandrayaan-3 rover, named Pragyan, shows that the lunar soil contains the expected elements such as iron, titanium, aluminum and calcium. However, there is unexpected data, namely the discovery of high levels of sulfur in the Moon’s soil.
So far, planetary scientists have known that sulfur is found in lunar rocks and soil. However, the concentration is very low. These new measurements imply there may be higher sulfur concentrations than previously thought.
Pragyan has two instruments that analyze the elemental composition of soil, namely an alpha particle X-ray spectrometer and a laser-induced damage spectrometer, or LIBS for short. Both instruments measured sulfur in the soil near the landing site.
Geology of the Moon
There are two main types of rock on the surface of the Moon, namely dark volcanic rock and lighter highland rock. The dark Moon region has dark volcanic soil. Meanwhile, brighter areas have highland land.
Scientists measuring the composition of rocks and soil on the moon from laboratories on Earth found that material from dark volcanic plains tended to have more sulfur than material from lighter highlands.
Sulfur mainly comes from volcanic activity. Rocks deep inside the Moon contain sulfur.
When the rock melts, the sulfur becomes part of the magma. When molten rock approaches the surface, most of the sulfur in the magma becomes a gas that is released along with water vapor and carbon dioxide.
Some of the sulfur remains in the magma and is trapped in the rock after it cools. This process explains why sulfur is primarily associated with dark volcanic rocks on the Moon.
First time measuring sulfur
Chandrayaan-3’s measurements of sulfur in soil were the first to be carried out on the Moon. The exact amount of sulfur cannot be determined until data calibration is complete.
Uncalibrated data collected by the LIBS instrument on Pragyan suggests that the Moon’s highland soils near the poles may have higher sulfur concentrations than equatorial highland soils and perhaps even higher than dark volcanic soils.
Formation of sulfur in the atmosphere
Sulfur measurements are of interest to scientists for at least two reasons. First, these findings suggest that highland soils at the lunar poles may have a different composition compared to highland soils in the lunar equatorial region.
This difference in composition most likely originates from the different environmental conditions between the two regions. It is known that the poles receive less direct sunlight.
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