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The Mission that never Ended: Know all about significant findings by Chandrayaan-2

In a dramatic sequence, Chandrayaan-2, India’s second mission to the lunar surface could not make a soft landing on the Moon and led to much disappointment. In the final moments, malfunction in the lander and rover were held responsible for the incompletion of the mission. But was it the end of the whole mission? If you think so, then the Indian Space research Organisation (ISRO) has yielded discovery-class findings from the Orbiter, the part of the mission that has been functioning properly. Earlier this week, ISRO released a wealth of new information that has been gathered by the scientific payloads to date, which has further added to the understanding about the Moon, Sun and the mysteries of their environment.

The ‘hero’ of the story, Orbiter, carried eight scientific orbiter payloads including:

– Chandrayaan-2 Large Area Soft X-ray Spectrometer (CLASS)
– Solar X-ray Monitor (XSM)
– Chandra’s Atmospheric Compositional Explorer 2 (CHACE 2)
– Dual Frequency Synthetic Aperture Radar (DFSAR)
– Imaging Infra-Red Spectrometer (IIRS)
– Terrain Mapping Camera (TMC 2)
– Orbiter High-Resolution Camera (OHRC)
– Dual-Frequency Radio Science (DFRS)

The instruments mentioned above are hosted by the Indian Space Agency to carry out broad tasks including studying the elemental composition of the Moon’s surface and assessing its environment, evaluating the presence of a variety of minerals, and mapping the lunar terrain. A wealth of information has been produced by these instruments onboard the orbiter that sheds light on the environment of the lunar surface and offers invaluable insights that are the treasure for the future mission.

Significant Information Gathered so far:

– Water on Moon: The presence of water on the Moon has already been discovered back in 2008 by Chandrayaan-1. But the instrument onboard the first mission to the moon was not sensitive enough to detect the difference between hydroxyl radical (OH) and the water molecule (H2O, which also has OH). This time, Chandrayaan-2 had a far more sensitive instrument named the Imaging Infra-Red Spectrometer (IIRS) onboard which detected OH and H2O molecules separately and further found unique characteristics about both.

In a path-breaking discovery, IIRS made the most precise observation about the presence of water molecules on the lunar surface to date. Earlier, water was known to be present mainly in the polar regions of the Moon. But, Chandrayaan-2 unravels the mystery of water by finding signatures at all latitudes on the surface of the moon. Besides, in a first of its kind discovery, a microwave imaging instrument, the Dual Frequency Synthetic Aperture Radar, has detected potential water ice at the permanently shadowed regions in Lunar Poles.

– Presence of precious elements: Thanks to a better detector, apart from major elements like magnesium, aluminium, silicon, calcium, titanium, iron etc., the Chandra’s Large Area Soft X-ray Spectrometer (CLASS) examined and detected minor elements – chromium and manganese for the first time. How would the discovery of elements help? Well, the findings pave the path for adding knowledge about the magmatic evolution of the Moon, its nebular conditions and much more.

– Study of the Sun: Besides gathering information about the Lunar surface, one of the scientific payloads has collected information about Solar flares. Called Solar X-ray Monitor (XSM), has witnessed a huge amount of microflares outside the active regions of the Sun for the first time. ISRO believes that this discovery will lead to a better understanding of the mechanism behind the heating of the solar corona, which has been the centre of attraction and a problem for many decades.

Significance of the findings: How does it all help?

The exploration of the moon and to the moon is not limited to today! Scientists are in a quest to understand the lunar surface to pave the path for future Moon missions. Hence, the information gathered from the Orbiter built upon the existing database about Moon. The future scope of the work depends on four key aspects:

– Volatile Mapping of the Lunar Surface
– Subsurface Properties
– Presence of Water in various forms across the Lunar Surface
– Presence of various Elements on the Moon

The information about the Permanently Shadowed Surface of the Lunar will aid scientists to zero in on future landing sites, further helping in man missions. Collaborations with various other Space Agencies will use such data, including Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)-ISRO collaboration which is due in 2023-24 to obtain knowledge of lunar water resources. Artemis Mission of NASA also plans to enable human landing on the Lunar surface by 2024 will take the help of ISRO’s data.

Therefore, the mission that never ended made observations that will aid in future lunar explorations and the Orbiter, thus, presented a more composite image of the Moon in front of us.

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