British scientists are preparing to view the Moon with X-ray eyes following the successful launch of India’s first lunar probe early today.
The $80 million Chandrayaan-1 mission rocketed into space atop a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle during a break in monsoon weather at the Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, India.
European space scientists and NASA have been closely involved in building experiments for the unmanned craft, which means Moon Ship in ancient Sanskrit.
Chandrayaan-1 will take around five and a half days to reach the Moon, following a complex path. Next month it will settle into a low orbit, 100 km (62 miles) above the lunar surface.
The probe will attack the Moon by firing a missile into its crust to blast out a small crater and discover what is inside.
The probe will also continue the search for ice within the permanent shadows of craters near the Moon’s poles. That could provide essential water for future manned missions if it exists. NASA supplied an instrument called the Miniature Synthetic Aperture Radar, or Mini-SAR, to map the polar regions and look for ice deposits. A second US instrument, the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, will assess mineral resources.
The British camera, called C1XS, was designed and built by space scientists at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, near Oxford. It is a spectrometer based on a similar instrument they built for Europe’s own Smart-1 mission which was deliberately crashed onto the Moon in 2006.
The instrument works by observing X-rays from the Sun that are soaked up by the lunar soil and beamed out again. One of four European experiments on board, it will map the make-up of the lunar surface to help scientists understand how the Moon was born and evolved.
Head of the British science team involved in the mission is Dr Ian Crawford from Birkbeck College, London. He said: “There is still a lot we don’t know about the Moon. Accurate maps of the surface composition will help us unravel its internal structure and geological history.
“Among other things this will help us better understand the origin of the Earth-Moon system. We will also be able to learn more about what happened on the Moon since it formed and how and when it cooled. By peering into its craters, we may even be able to see below its crust to the material underneath.”
Photo: Indian Space Research Organisation.
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