About 400,000 km from planet earth, there are probably chunks of ice trapped inside huge craters on the moon’s surface. And they have been left untouched by the sun for about two billion years. This has so far been a conjecture.
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the US are going to find out whether those dark holes actually hold ice and the secret of the solar system.
“When it happens, it is going to be a unique experiment and will be the first of its kind,” M. Annadurai, project director, Chandrayaan-I, told Hindustan Times.
ISRO scientists said the details of the experiment —manoeuvering the orbiters to cruise along over the lunar poles, ensuring simultaneous operations and exchange of data — would be worked out with NASA in Bangalore next month.
The first such effort by the space faring nations will involve two lunar orbiters, Chandrayaan-I and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRA) of NASA, operating in sync over the moon’s polar region. They will bounce radar signals off the craters to spot the nether world of ice.
The master plan for the experiment has been chalked out by Prof. Paul D. Spudis of Lunar and Planetary Institute of Houston, who led the team of US scientists in the Chandrayaan-I project.
“Our experiment should answer first the broad questions about the existence of lunar polar ice, its extent and purity,” says Prof. Spudis in his paper published in Lunar and Planetary Science journal.
As the first step, Indian scientists shifted Chandrayaan-I to a new orbit 200 km away to 100 km from the lunar surface on May 19.
It will also help study the impact of lunar gravity and gather images of a wider swath.
Scientists believe that detection of ice in the moon’s polar region will be significant in many respects.
First, it could be used for producing propellants to support the deep-space missions that have been planned from the lunar soil.
And second, it will also hold clues to the evolution of the solar system and the composition of the comets that crashed onto the moon over a billion years.