WASHINGTON- NASA will launch a “priority” mission to explore mysterious domes on the moon. The space agency announced that a rover would visit the Gruithuisen domes, a geological feature that has baffled scientists.
The domes are believed to have been formed by sticky silica-rich magma, similar in composition to granite. On Earth, however, formations like these require oceans of liquid water and plate tectonics to form, but without these key ingredients on the Moon, lunar scientists wonder how these domes formed and have evolved over time.
The Lunar Vulkan Imaging and Spectroscopy Explorer (Lunar-VISE) survey, scheduled for 2025, will consist of a suite of five instruments. Two of them will be mounted on a stationary lander and three mounted on a mobile rover which will be provided as a service by a provider of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative.
Over ten Earth days (one lunar day), Lunar-VISE will explore the top of one of Gruithuisen’s domes. By analyzing lunar regolith atop one of these domes, the data collected and returned by Lunar-VISE’s instruments will help scientists answer fundamental open questions about the origin of these formations.
Announced on June 2 as part of a “Priority Artemis Science” mission, the data will also help inform future robotic and human missions to the Moon.
“We have a lunar mystery in our hands! The Gruithuisen domes are a geological enigma,” writes Caroline Capone of NASA. “Based on early telescopic and space observations, these domes have long been suspected of being formed by silica-rich magma, similar in composition to granite. The real mystery is how such silicic magmas could form on the Moon. In order to truly understand these puzzling features, we need to visit the domes, explore them from the ground, and analyze rock samples. Fortunately, NASA plans to do just that! Hopefully, in just a few years, we will better understand this lunar mystery!”
Adding to the growing list of commercial deliveries planned to explore more of the Moon than ever under Artemis, NASA has also selected a second survey. The LEIA (Lunar Explorer Instrument for space biology Applications) science suite is a small device based on CubeSat. The LEIA will provide biological research on the Moon – which cannot be simulated or reproduced with high fidelity on Earth or the International Space Station – by delivering the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to the lunar surface and studying its response to radiation and lunar gravity.
“Both selected studies will address important scientific questions related to the Moon,” said Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “The first will study the geological processes of the first planetary bodies that are preserved on the Moon, by studying 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.
Reporting by Dean Murray, South West News Service