Indian rover confirms sulphur on Moon's south pole

First EVER elements are discovered on the Moon’s South Pole: India’s Chandrayaan-3 rover confirms the presence of sulphur in the lunar surface

  • India’s space agency confirms discovery of several elements including sulphur  
  • British researcher says sulphur could reveal more about the moon’s origins
  • Chandrayaan-3 has been on the moon for a week now following its landing 

India’s plucky lunar rover has become the first to find chemical elements on the moon’s south pole. 

Chandrayaan-3 has detected sulphur in the moon’s soil, which an expert said could reveal more about the origins of our lunar neighbour. 

It marks the first time sulphur has been found on the moon’s south ‘in situ’ – so in the place it exists, rather than detected from a distance by an orbiter, the country’s space agency said. 

Chandrayaan-3 has also found aluminium, calcium, iron, chromium, titanium, manganese, silicon, and oxygen, while the search for hydrogen is now underway. 

Chandrayaan-3 has been on the moon for a week now, following its triumphant landing on August 23 that sending India into raptures. 

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) posted this graph to X showing the chemical elements detected by Chandrayaan-3, including sulphur (S) 

Chandrayaan-3’s cute little rover (nicknamed ‘Pragyan’) was carried to the moon aboard the  larger lander (‘Vikram’). Just a day after touchdown the rover rolled out of its parent craft and started to explore (pictured)

READ MORE Watch the Chandrayaan-3 rover drive onto the moon

Chandrayaan-3 rover weighs just 26 kg (57lb) – about the same as three full-sized watermelons

Detection of the elements was announced by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on X (formerly Twitter). 

It was achieved by the rover’s ‘Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy’ (LIBS) – a little instrument that can measure concentrations of elements in solid, liquid or air samples.  

‘The Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) instrument onboard Chandrayaan-3 Rover has made the first-ever in-situ measurements on the elemental composition of the lunar surface near the south pole,’ ISRO said in the post. 

‘These in-situ measurements confirm the presence of sulphur in the region unambiguously, something that was not feasible by the instruments onboard the orbiters.’

Sara Russell, a professor of planetary sciences at the Natural History Museum in London, said, the rover’s discovery has ‘really important implications’ for both researchers and astronauts. 

‘Sulphur is usually bonded to important metals like iron and nickel, and these may be important ores that could be used by future astronauts to enable them to live and work on the moon,’ she told MailOnline. 

‘We already know that the moon contains sulphur, from our analyses of rocks returned from the moon by space missions, and from lunar meteorites. 

ISRO has been regularly tweeting updates about the progress of its Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft, which comprises both a stationary lander and a rover with wheels

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Scientists suspect moon was created when a planet called Theia struck Earth 

‘What we don’t really know is the distribution and abundance of sulphur on the moon.

‘This has really important implications for understanding the way the moon evolved.

‘For example how much sulphur was lost when the moon first formed in a giant impact, and today how do the different rock layers of the moon differ in composition?’ 

ISRO has been regularly tweeting updates about the progress of its Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft, 

Chandrayaan-3 comprises both a stationary lander with long legs (nicknamed ‘Vikram’) and a rover with wheels (‘Pragyan’). 

The rover was carried to the moon aboard the lander, but just a day after touchdown on a relatively flat point between Manzinus C and Simpelius N craters, the rover rolled out its parent craft and started to explore. 

Since then it’s been sending back amazing photos of the lunar south region, more than 200,000 miles away from Earth. 

Chandrayaan-3 landed between the southern craters of Manzinus C and Simpelius N. Note the flatness of the area, compared with other nearby areas of the south pole 

READ MORE Why are nations racing to the moon’s south pole?

As part of what’s being described as ‘space race 2.0’, India, Russia, China and the US want to land at the moon’s south region 

One such shot posted to X by ISRO on Monday shows a 13-foot (4 metre) diameter crater positioned just ahead of the rover, blocking its path. 

Had the rover not detected the huge trench, it could have fallen in and been upended, prematurely ending its mission. 

Fortunately, the rover was commanded to retrace the path and it’s ‘now safely heading on a new path’, ISRO said. 

Another beautiful photo, taken by the rover and posted to X on Wednesday, shows the Vikram parent lander in front of a rugged patch of lunar soil.  

In the past week, India has captured the world’s attention with its Chandrayaan-3 mission, but it’s already about halfway to being completed. 

Science instruments on both the lander and rover will be active for a total of just one lunar day (14 Earth days) before losing power – a relatively short mission.

Once the time period is up, the rover and lander will become inactive on the moon and bring the mission to the end.

Chandrayaan-3’s instruments will end their days covered in lunar dust, although it’s not impossible that manned missions to our natural satellite could recover their parts for reuse. 

This image provided by the Indian Space Research Organisation shows a crater encountered by Chandrayaan- 3 as seen by the navigation camera

Beautiful: Image provided by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) taken by the Pragyan rover shows the Vikram lander. Photo released on August 30, 2023

India put itself in the record books last week by successfully landing on the moon’s south pole, four years after its predecessor, Chandrayaan-2, failed the same objective.

Although India is the fourth country after the US, Russia and China to safely land a craft on the moon, it made history as the first to do so on the moon’s south pole. 

Russia tried to land a spacecraft on the lunar south on August 19 but spectacularly failed when it spun out of control and smashed – leaving the path free for India to seal the achievement instead. 

Chandrayaan-3 actually left Earth more than a month ago, aboard a rocket from Satish Dhawan Space Centre north of Chennai on July 14. 

India’s spacecraft has taken much longer to reach the moon than the Apollo missions, which arrived in a matter of days, because the Asian nation is using much less powerful rockets.

China and US will follow India’s success with their own attempts to land at the moon’s south pole

Along with India and Russia, China and the US are also part of the race to put spacecraft on the moon’s south pole.

Although India has won the race to be the first, the other three nations are expected to become the second to do it later this decade

China’s Chang’e 7 robotic exploration mission, scheduled for 2026, has the lunar south pole as its destination. 

Meanwhile, the US’s Artemis programme run by NASA, not content just with landing an uncrewed robotic gadget at the lunar south, wants to send humans instead. 

The Artemis III mission, which will land the first woman and the first person of colour on the moon, is planned for 2025, but NASA recently admitted this could be pushed back. 

Russia’s attempt to be the first to land at the south pole – Luna 25 – failed just days before India took the record. 

Russia’s mission – a follow-up to Luna 24 back in 1976 – failed when it spun out of control and smashed. 

Valery Yegorov, a former researcher with Russia’s space programme who now lives in exile, said the crash would severely affect Roscosmos’s future missions, with the next one not planned until 2028 or ‘even later’. 

India has a comparatively low-budget aerospace programme, but one that has grown considerably in size and momentum since it first sent a probe to orbit the moon in 2008 (Chandrayaan-1). 

Its Chandrayaan-3 mission has a price tag of $74.6million – far lower than those of other countries, and a testament to India’s frugal space engineering. 

Experts say India can keep costs low by copying and adapting existing space technology, and thanks to an abundance of highly skilled engineers who earn a fraction of their foreign counterparts’ wages.

In 2014, India became the first Asian nation to put a satellite into orbit around Mars and is slated to launch a three-day manned mission into Earth’s orbit by next year.

India is also working with the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) on Chandrayaan-4, which would also land at the moon’s south but have a much longer lifespan. 

Launch of Chandrayaan-4 is tentatively scheduled for 2025 or 2026. 

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