India confirms Moon's presence of sulfur, detects other elements

The Chandrayaan-3 mission has "unambiguously" confirmed the presence of sulfur near the lunar south pole, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced.

The presence of sulfur was confirmed through "first-ever in-situ measurements" in the region taken by the laser-induced spectroscopy instrument onboard Chandrayaan-3 called LIBS, the agency said.

Even though the presence of sulfur on the Moon has been known for decades, it is the first time it has been confirmed on the site, something "that was not feasible by the instruments onboard the orbiters," it said.

The discovery of sulfur could provide clues about the Moon's evolution.

As expected, the Indian mission has also detected aluminum, calcium, iron, chromium, and titanium, as well as the presence of manganese, silicon, and oxygen. ISRO added that a "thorough investigation" regarding the presence of hydrogen was underway.

According to the agency, LIBS uses intense laser pulses to generate plasma from rocks or soil and analyze its composition.

"Since each element emits a characteristic set of wavelengths of light when it's in a plasma state, the elemental composition of the material is determined," a statement published on its website explained.

In search of water

Chandrayaan-3 soft-landed on the Moon a week ago, making India the fourth country after the US, the USSR, and China to accomplish the feat and the first to touch down so close to the lunar south pole.

Despite its rough and challenging terrain, many space powers see the region as an attractive place to establish a base for future space exploration missions or mining operations.

It is thought to be rich in minerals, including ice, which could be used as a source of drinking water or to make rocket fuel. Frozen water on the Moon could also provide new insights into the solar system's beginnings.

The Chandrayaan-3 mission will last one lunar day, or 14 Earth days, during which it will carry a number of experiments. Finding the signs of frozen water is one of the mission's goals.

Leading space power

Chandrayaan-3 landed on the Moon shortly after a Russian spacecraft on a similar mission crashed. To many in India, this has confirmed their country's technological prowess and status as one of the leading space powers.

Even though Chandrayaan-2 also crashed in 2019, the successful new landing made India "at par with China, better than Russia," according to the daily The Indian Express.

"Chandrayaan-3 reinforces the international perception of India as a rising power and that of Russia as a declining power," it said.

The Hindustan Times said the mission's success "bodes well for lunar opportunities and India's scientific temper," describing it as a "moonshot for the future."

Meanwhile, The Times of India said India should now "build on the Moon," arguing that it would be a "natural step to use the lunar surface as a launchpad for interplanetary exploration" in a way NASA-led Artemis program plans to do.

To mark the successful landing of Chandrayaan-3, India has announced August 23rd as its National Space Day and is setting its eyes further afield.

On September 2nd, it will launch its first mission to the Sun and is working on its first human spaceflight mission, which would take a crew of three to an orbit of 400 km for three days.