As anticipation mounts for India’s planned Chandrayaan-3 mission to the moon on Wednesday, an expert takes a deep dive into the fascinating world of lunar exploration. The Moon has captivated human curiosity for centuries, and with each new mission we learn more about its geological history, composition and potential for scientific discovery.

Dr. TV Venkateswaran, a scientist at Vigyan Prasar, an autonomous organization under the Department of Science and Technology (DST), and a member of the Public Outreach Committee of the Indian Astronomical Society, answered questions about lunar geological evolution, lunar geological evolution, importance of Antarctica, water and ice presence and India’s ambitious lunar exploration programme.

What is the geological history and evolution of the Moon? In other words, how old is it, and when/how did it form?

The Moon is estimated to be about 4.5 billion years old, about the same age as the Earth. The leading theory of the moon’s formation holds that a Mars-sized body collided with the young Earth, and that the debris from this collision eventually coalesced to form the lunar body. However, current geological evidence from the Moon suggests it may be 60 million years younger than Earth.

How heavy are objects on the Moon relative to Earth, and why?

The Moon’s gravity is much weaker than Earth’s, about one-sixth that of Earth’s. Therefore, objects on the Moon weigh much less than those on Earth. This is due to the smaller size and mass of the moon. For example, a person weighing 68 kilograms on Earth would be just over 11 kilograms on the Moon.

Why did Indian scientists land on the South Pole of the Moon?

The lunar south pole has become a focus of exploration because of its unique features and potential scientific value. It is believed that there are huge reservoirs of water ice within the permanently shaded areas. The presence of water is important for future space exploration as it can be converted into resources such as drinking water, oxygen and hydrogen for rocket fuel. In addition, the temperature in the permanently sunlit area of ​​the region is about minus 50 to 10 degrees Celsius, which provides better chemical conditions for the electronics on the rover and lander to work properly.

What’s at the Moon’s South Pole? Is the topography and geology there the same as elsewhere on the moon or do we not know?

The topography and geology of the lunar south pole are different from other regions. The permanently shadowed craters provide extremely cold conditions that allow water ice to accumulate and persist. The unique geography of Antarctica also creates areas of perpetual sunlight that can be harnessed for solar power generation. The terrain is varied, ranging from rugged landforms to relatively flat plains, offering a wide variety of scientific opportunities.

Why is a certain area of ​​the moon’s south pole permanently shadowed?

It depends on the geology of the moon. The Moon’s axis is only slightly tilted relative to its orbit around Earth. This results in certain areas near the poles being permanently shadowed. These shades create extremely cold conditions where temperatures can plummet to very low levels. These frigid conditions favor the preservation of water ice for billions of years.

Is there water/ice at the Moon’s South Pole? Chandrayaan-1 seems to have suggested this.

Yes, water ice has been confirmed in the Moon’s South Pole region. Data from various lunar missions, including India’s Chandrayaan-1, launched in 2008, suggest the presence of water molecules in these permanently shadowed regions. This discovery opens up exciting possibilities for continued lunar exploration.

Is water/ice critical to future lunar exploration?

Water ice is an important resource for future lunar exploration and beyond. It can be converted into breathable air, drinking water, and most importantly, hydrogen and oxygen into rocket fuel. This could revolutionize space travel by reducing the need to transport these resources from Earth, making long-duration missions more feasible.

Does India plan to manned the moon in the future?

While ISRO has expressed its intention to send astronauts into space as part of its Gaganyaan mission, there are currently no plans to send a manned mission to the moon in the near future.


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