India's maiden moon mission Chandrayaan-1 found the earth's satellite alive and kicking, demolishing myths about it being bone dry and inactive for millions of years. “Contrary to belief and speculations about the origin, evolution of growth of moon based on past observations, voluminous data from Chandrayaan confirmed that it (moon) is alive and kicking, with a lot of tectonic activity,” Physical Research Laboratory director J.N. Goswami said at a space summit here late Sunday.
The state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) carried the Rs.3.9-billion (Rs.390-crore) Chandrayaan mission for 10 months from Oct 22, 2008 to Aug 31, 2009, with 11 scientific instruments (payloads) to the lunar orbit, about 100 km from the moon's surface and over 400,000 km from the earth. Of the 11 instruments on board the 514 kg mooncraft, five were Indian and six from the international space agencies in Europe and the US.
Other lunar missions since then such as Chang'e 1 & 2 of China, Kaguya of Japan and Orbiter of the US had endorsed the findings of Chandrayaan, which confirmed for the first time presence of ice water beneath the surface at its poles. “The mission's instruments such as the moon impact probe, hyper spectral imagery and the terrain mapping camera observed that the earth's natural satellite is in a state of glacial contraction due to cooling of a still hot interior,” Goswami said in a inter-disciplinary lecture on 'The new Face of the Moon' at the 39th Scientific Assembly of the Committee on Space Research (Cospar 2012).
Making its way to the moon
ISRO's deep space network at Byalalu, about 40 km from Bangalore, collected and processed around 26 gigabygtes (GB) of lunar data and images, including chemical and mineral mapping, high resolution of the three-dimensional mapping and topographical features before the spacecraft was lost in the orbit.
“Analysis of the data so far has revealed that the moon is not an inactive or dead planetary body. Though the lunar atmosphere is hostile to sustain life, a lot of action is taking place due to sunlight, solar winds and extreme temperatures at the poles,” Goswami told about 2,000 delegates participating in the week-long summit at Infosys campus on the city's outskirts.Flashing select images of the lunar surface at the poles and the centre relayed by Chandrayaan's cameras, Goswami said the 82-km giant crater on the moon's southern highlands revealed geological activity in the form of dry lava ponds, lava channels and volcanic vents in the central peak of the crater christened Tycho.
“The central peak is dominated by relatively heavy, iron-rich lava-associated minerals that may have oozed out of the lunar interior as lava during volcanic activity. In contrast, the floor of the Tycho crater has more of surface-associated minerals. We hope to learn more about the moon's inner crust through observations of young craters,” Goswami pointed out.Noting that there was no consensus yet on the origin and evolution of moon, Goswami said the space community had to carry many more lunar missions to verify if the celestial object was carved out of the earth as believed by planetary geologists when a huge asteroid had collided with the earth over four billion years ago resulting in the formation of the lunar satellite.
“We will try to verify some of the findings and address other issues with our Chandrayaan-2 mission, as it will have an orbiter and a rover to carry out advance experiments with our own instruments,” Goswami added.The space agency has been working on the second unmanned lunar mission since 2010 after the government approved the Rs.425-crore project, which will be jointly launched with the Russian Federal Space Agency to conduct new experiments, on lunar soil or rock samples for on-site chemical analysis. Though the proposed experiments and instruments have been finalised, the mission has been rescheduled to be launched in 2015-16 due to delay in building the lander by the Russian space agency.