One of Chandrayaan 2’s main missions is understanding the origin of the Moon and putting the 4-theory debate to rest. Will ISRO succeed?
Can Chandrayaan 2 decipher the origin of the Moon? As landing of the Vikram Lander is approaching, ISRO scientists’ excitement of exploring the lunar South Pole that is a portentous site and the “15 minutes of terror” before the landing is undoubtedly drumming up among the different space agencies that are closely watching it.
To push the boundaries of science and unveil the mysteries of the Moon and universe, will expand India’s footprint in space. Moon is the perfect test-bed and the nearest celestial body for proving technologies required for future space exploration and also the manned mission that India is planning to conduct by 2022.
Chandrayaan 2 and Origin of the Moon
According to ISRO’s website, “Moon provides the best linkage to Earth’s early history. It offers an undisturbed historical record of the inner solar system environment. Extensive mapping of the lunar surface to study variations in lunar surface composition is essential to trace back the origin and evolution of the Moon.”
“It is a promising testbed to demonstrate the technologies required for deep-space missions. Chandrayaan 2 attempts to foster a new age of discovery, increase our understanding of space, stimulate the advancement of technology, promote global alliances, and inspire a future generation of explorers and scientists,” ISRO’s website.
Why land on the South Pole?
As part of the Chandrayaan 2 mission objectives, the lunar South Pole is important to explore. This part remains in the shadow and possibility of the presence of water is very high and is also much larger than the North Pole.
Understanding the Moon’s origin and evolution
ISRO’s most important and prodigious objective is to understand the Moon’s origin and evolution. However, there are many theories and hypothesis around the globe, among the scientist on the origin of Moon:
This theory was proposed by George Darwin (English Barrister and Astronomer) in 1879. It explains that the Earth’s rotational speed expelled a piece of its mass creating today’s Moon, while Earth’s gravitational pull anchored this split fragmented part to become its natural satellite. Consequently, this theory posited that the fragmented part might have come out of the Pacific Ocean.
However, after the Moon’s rock were analyzed, this theory was rejected as the composition of the rocks found on Moon’s surface was much older than the Pacific Ocean rocks.
Here is one tricky question that is very important to notice that the “seafloor spreading” theory which is widely accepted says that the volcanic eruption taking place in the Pacific Ocean, i.e. also known as “ring of fire” keeps on subducting the sea bed and the lava coming out of volcano making new seafloor bed. So how can we be so sure of rejecting this theory which can be potential ground for ISRO’s understanding the origin of Moon?
So, this theory suggested that the Moon originated somewhere else in the solar system or the Milky Way and was an untethered object before the Earth’s gravitational force captured it. This theory was questioned on two grounds:
First, many scientists suggest that the Moon would have broken free from Earth’s gravity. This is because the gravity that Earth persist would have been altered by catching Moon. Secondly, the chemical components of Earth and Moon suggest that they have formed at the same time.
Co-accretion Theory (also known as Condensation theory)
This theory or hypothesis attributes that the Earth and Moon formed together while orbiting a black hole. However, this theory could not explain, why Moon orbits the Earth and why there is a big difference in densities between Earth and Moon, i.e. Moon has a small iron core compared to the Earth.
Giant Impact Hypothesis (also known as Ejected Ring Theory)
So, this theory is very much accepted among scientists. According to this theory, a Mars-sized planetesimal called Theia (small planet) collided with Earth just after the formation of the solar system, caused large segments of both the planets to break which eventually stuck together to create Moon.
Moreover, this phenomenon is evidence noticed by the scientists, in many places in the universe that such type of collisions is common during the formation of the solar system.
Why ISRO is studying Moon’s Ionosphere?
To study the composition of the tenuous lunar atmosphere, especially the electron’s density in the Moon’s ionosphere is very much crucial because it can give us the information on Earth’s magnetic field.
The ionosphere is the uppermost part of the atmosphere, i.e. ionized by solar radiation. It plays a vital role in atmospheric electricity which helps in reflecting the radio waves in the shortwave band and also forms the inner edge of the magnetosphere.
Identifying Earth’s future
The magnetosphere is nothing but the magnetic field that blocks and diverts the charged particles (solar winds or solar radiation) coming from the sun towards space and protecting Earth’s atmosphere otherwise it could wash out the atmosphere and make the Earth a barren land same as Mars, which already lost its magnetic field and eventually atmosphere,
Thereafter, remaining undiverted particles make way towards Earth poles creating Auroras (Northern and southern lights).
Creating a favourable atmosphere for human exploration
If scientist will able to understand the Moon’s ionosphere and its magnetic field, then it will be possible in the future to create a favourable atmosphere for human exploration and might also be possible for human settlement.
NASA is also studying the magnetic field of Mars so that it can again create the lost magnetic field to support the atmosphere for the human settlements.
ISRO different portentous objectives
- Demonstrate the ability to soft-land on the surface of the Moon.
- Study the indicators of hydroxyl and water molecules.
- Understand topography, seismography (moonquakes), mineral identification and distribution, surface chemical composition, thermo-physical characteristics of topsoil.
- Lander and Rover will examine the in-situ sites, including the Moon’s interior.
- To explore for sulphur. Scientific probes suggest that iron sulphide is a great place to find precious metals like platinum and palladium.
- It also aimed to find Helium-3 which can be used in nuclear fusion. Helium-3 atoms release a large amount of energy that too without causing the surrounding material to become radioactive.
- The most important and prodigious is to understand the origin and evolution of the Moon.