Nasa says it will investigate mysterious mounds on moon in Artemis mission

Formations like Gruithuisen Domes need oceans of liquid water and plate tectonics to form, scientists say

Vishwam Sankaran
Monday 06 June 2022 09:23 BST
<p>Nasa is planning to send a lander and rover to the mysterious Gruithuisen Domes</p>

Nasa is planning to send a lander and rover to the mysterious Gruithuisen Domes

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Nasa has selected two new instrument suites for what it calls “priority” science missions in its upcoming Artemis lunar space programme, including one to explore mysterious mounds on the moon.

The American space agency has selected an instrument called the Lunar Vulkan Imaging and Spectroscopy Explorer (Lunar-Vise) to study the Gruithuisen Domes on the moon, which have puzzled scientists since they appear to have been formed by a magma rich in silica, similar in composition to granite.

Researchers say formations like these need oceans of liquid water and plate tectonics to form on earth.

Without these “key ingredients” on the moon, scientists are puzzled about how these domes formed and evolved over time.

The Lunar-Vise, they say, includes a suite of five instruments, two of which will be mounted on a stationary lander and three mounted on a mobile rover.

“The two selected studies will address important scientific questions related to the moon,” Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration in Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement.

“The first will study geologic processes of early planetary bodies that are preserved on the moon, by investigating a rare form of lunar volcanism. The second will study the effects of the moon’s low gravity and radiation environment on yeast, a model organism used to understand DNA damage response and repair,” he added.

Using the Lunar-Vise instruments, researchers hope to analyse the lunar soil at the top of one of these domes over the course of 10 earth days (one lunar day).

They hope the data collected by the instruments could unravel fundamental questions regarding how these lunar rock formations came to be.

Nasa scientists also hope to use data from these studies for future robotic and human missions to the moon.

With another investigation, called the Lunar Explorer Instrument for space biology Applications (Leia) science suite, researchers hope to deliver Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast to the lunar surface and study its response to radiation and lunar gravity.

S. cerevisiae is an important model organism, used to understand human biology in the areas of genetics, cell division processes, and DNA damage response to environmental factors such as radiation.

Researchers believe the data from Leia could unravel decades-old questions of how partial gravity and deep-space radiation in combination influence biological processes.

Both these lunar investigation payloads will be delivered to the surface of the Moon on future flights through Nasa’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative – a part of the agency’s larger lunar exploration architecture planned for this decade – the agency noted.

The Artemis moon programme aims to return humans to the lunar surface in 2025 as part of the Artemis III mission.

Nasa has noted that astronauts would spend weeks or months on the moon during missions expected to launch once a year from 2027 onward into the 2030s, making it the first crewed mission to the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972.

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