Indian Probe Catches X-Rays From Moon

Russia and India to Fly Lunar Mission
India's Chandrayaan-1 is an Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) mission designed to orbit the Moon over a two year period. Packed with an international suite of science instruments, the orbiter is headed for a late 2007-2008 launch. Image (Image credit: Dan Roam)

An Indianspacecraft has picked up its first X-rays from the moon with a little help froma small solar flare.

A Europeancamera on India?s Chandrayaan-1lunar orbiter detected a faint X-ray signal coming from a region near oneof NASA?s old Apollo landing sites for a brief three seconds. But the signalwas clear enough to spot traces of magnesium, aluminum and silicon making upthe lunar region.

?These dataare the building blocks of the first global mineralogical map of the moon - keyto understanding ouronly natural satellite,? said Detlef Koschny, the European Space Agency?s(ESA) Chandrayaan-1 project scientist.

Chandrayaan-1?sEuropean-built C1XS X-ray camera caught the short X-ray burst from the moon onDec. 12 just a small solar flare began pummeling the lunar surface to spark thefluorescence, ESA researchers said.

Scientistswere surprised to pick up any X-ray signals at all since the flare was about 20times weaker than the lowest limit the C1XS camera was designed to detect.

?Thequality of the flare signal detected from the moon clearly demonstrates thatC1XS is in excellent condition and has survived the passage of Chandrayaan-1through the Earth?s radiation (or van Allen) belts with very little damage,?said the camera?s principal investigator Manuel Grande of the AberystwythUniversity. ?This is excellent news for the rest of the Chandrayaan-1 mission.?

Chandrayaan-1is not the first spacecraft to scour the moon for X-ray signals to uncover secrets ofthe lunar surface composition. The space-based Chandra X-ray Observatory andESA?s SMART-1 moon probe, for example, have also used X-ray cameras toscrutinize the lunar surface.

But Chandrayaan-1?scamera may yield new insight because of its sensitivity, researchers said.

?Theinstrument has exceeded expectations as to its sensitivity and has proven byits performance that it is the most sensitive X-ray spectrometer of its kind inhistory,? said Shyama Narendranath, the Chandrayaan-1 instrument operationsscientist at the IndianSpace Research Organisation (ISRO).

Indialaunched the Chandrayaan-1 toward the moon in October 2008 and entered orbit amonth later armedwith 11 scientific instruments to map the lunar surface and its composition.The spacecraft also dropped a small probe that slammed into the moon to takeclose-up photographs and test technologies for future landers.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.