Chandrayaan 3 Lunar Mission: India’s Pragyan Rover Detects Sulfur at Moon’s South Pole
India’s lunar exploration mission, Chandrayaan-3, has achieved another significant milestone with its six-wheeled Pragyan rover detecting sulfur for the first time near the moon’s south pole, according to an announcement from the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). This finding sheds light on the moon’s volcanic history and past atmospheric conditions since sulfur is typically associated with terrestrial volcanoes.
The recent discovery came shortly after the successful landing of India’s spacecraft approximately 70 degrees from the lunar south pole. Following the landing, the solar-powered Pragyan rover embarked on its mission to search for frozen water in its new lunar home.
In a groundbreaking achievement, Pragyan employed its chemical analysis tool, similar to those on Mars rovers like Curiosity and China’s Zhurong, to zap lunar soil particles with a laser, producing a plasma plume. The unique wavelength of light emitted by the plume allowed the rover to unambiguously detect sulfur in the lunar soil, as confirmed by ISRO.
Furthermore, utilizing the same method, Pragyan identified several other elements in lunar soil, including aluminum, calcium, chromium, iron, manganese, oxygen, silicon, and titanium. These elements and their abundance provide valuable insights into the moon’s geological evolution. However, sulfur’s presence near the moon’s south pole is particularly intriguing as it had only been found near the moon’s equator in samples brought back by the Apollo missions in the 1970s.
The detection of sulfur in this region holds significant implications for future missions, both crewed and uncrewed, as the lunar south pole is known to harbor frozen water, making it a prime target for exploration. Sulfur has versatile applications, including use in storage batteries and construction materials. Notably, it can potentially substitute for moon water during the construction of lunar infrastructure or habitats, given its ideal operating temperature of around 248 degrees Fahrenheit (120 degrees Celsius), slightly higher than the moon’s daytime temperatures of 224 degrees Fahrenheit (106 degrees Celsius).
Despite the presence of various spacecraft orbiting the moon, detecting sulfur directly on the lunar surface was deemed unfeasible until Pragyan’s on-site measurements.
As the two-week-long Chandrayaan-3 mission reached its halfway point, Pragyan’s journey also encountered a dramatic turn when it narrowly avoided a hazardous crater, prompting a reroute. Subsequently, it captured the first complete image of the Vikram lunar lander on the moon’s surface.
Pragyan’s ongoing mission includes the search for hydrogen, which scientists hope to mine for water and rocket fuel production, further enhancing our understanding of the moon and its potential for future exploration and utilization.