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Lunar bounty: Chandrayaan-3's sulphur discovery could help us get much closer to building Moon colonies

Lunar bounty: Chandrayaan-3's sulphur discovery could help us get much closer to building Moon colonies
It didn't take long for India's Chandrayaan-3 mission to make waves after its momentous soft-landing on the Moon. In a matter of days, scientists found themselves pondering the causes of the newly discovered enigmatic moonquakes and overheating occurrences on the lunar surface. However, one revelation, in particular, had researchers brimming with anticipation: the unearthing of sulphur.

Scientists were aware of the existence of sulphur deposits on the Moon, but they were considered too scant to be of much use. However, this recent discovery turned that assumption on its head.

If you were to examine images of the Moon, you'd notice patches of dark and white covering its entire surface. The dark areas consist of volcanic rock, which typically contains higher concentrations of sulphur compared to the white "highlands" material. Volcanic activity causes sulphur-rich rocks deep within the Moon to melt, and they later surface as magma, which eventually cools to form these dark regions.

During this process, some of this sulphur inadvertently escapes into the Moon's thin atmosphere. Scientists believe that this sulphur would eventually have made its way to the lunar poles, where the frigid temperatures, dropping as low as -230°C due to the lack of consistent direct sunlight, would cause the element to solidify on the surface.

This theory of condensation could explain why the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer and the LIBS instruments on Chandrayaan-3's Pragyan Rover detected sulphur near the landing site. Further calibration will be necessary to confirm the findings, but initial data suggests that sulphur levels in this area might be significantly higher than those in the volcanic rock near the lunar equator.

Planetary scientist Jeffrey Gillis-Davis suggests that the mysterious concentrations of polar sulphur could also have resulted from ancient volcanic eruptions in the region. Meteorites carrying sulphur might have transported substantial amounts of the element when they collided with the Moon in the past.

Sulphur holds great promise for a variety of applications in Moon exploration and potential habitation. Given the challenges and expenses of shuttling between Earth and the Moon, not to mention the risks involved, having access to abundant local resources can be a literal lifesaver!

Jeffrey proposes that scientists could use sulphur to create waterless concrete for building Moon bases and produce sulphur-based solar cells, batteries, and even fertilisers for potential farming operations. The limited water we transport to our lunar neighbour could then be redirected for essential purposes like producing drinking water, breathable oxygen, and rocket fuel.

Despite the challenges faced by Chandrayaan-3's Vikram Lander and Pragyan Rover in reactivating from their planned slumber, the data gathered by this historic spacecraft is invaluable and is sure to benefit all future lunar missions. When mainstream society eventually takes the inevitable leap to the Moon, they will have ISRO to thank for these groundbreaking discoveries.


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