Bhargavi Kerur / DNA
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Bangalore: Scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) are on the brink of a path-breaking discovery. They may have found signs of life in some form or the other on the Moon.
They believe so because scientific instruments on India’s first unmanned lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, picked up signatures of organic matter on parts of the Moon’s surface, Surendra Pal, associate director, Isro Satellite Centre (Isac), said at the international radar symposium here on Friday.
Organic matter consists of organic compounds, which consists of carbon — the building block of life.
It indicates the formation of life or decay of a once-living matter.
Pal said the signatures were relayed back to the Bylalu deep space network station near Bangalore by the mass spectrometer on board the Indian payload, the moon impact probe (MIP), on November 14, 2008.
The relay of data happened moments before it crashed near the Moon’s south pole. The MIP was the first experiment of the Chandrayaan-1 mission, which was launched on October 22, 2008.
Pal, however, did not elaborate, but concluded saying “the findings are being analysed and scrutinised for validation by Isro scientists and peer reviewers”.
“It is too early to say anything,” said the director of Isro’s space physics laboratory R Sridharan, who is heading the team of MIP data analysis and study. He, however, did not deny the finding.
DNA later inquired with other senior Chandrayaan-1 mission scientists, who not only confirmed the finding, but gave further details.
“Certain atomic numbers were observed that indicated the presence of carbon components. This indicates the possibility of the presence of organic matter (on the Moon),” a senior scientist told DNA.
Interestingly, similar observations were made by the US’s first manned Moon landing mission, the Apollo-11, in July 1969, which brought lunar soil samples back to Earth. But due to a lack of sophisticated equipment then, the scientists could not confirm the finding.
However, traces of amino acids, which are basic to life, were found in the soil retrieved by the Apollo-11 astronauts.
The Chandrayaan-1 scientists, at present, are analysing the source of origin of the Moon’s organic matter. “It could be comets or meteorites which have deposited the matter on the Moon’s surface; or the instrument that landed on the Moon could have left traces,” a senior space scientist said.
“But the presence of large sheets of ice in the polar regions of the Moon, and the discovery of water molecules there, lend credence to the possibility of organic matter there,” he said.
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