NASA is sending a rover on a “priority” mission: explore the mysterious, volcano-like domes of Gruithuisen on the Moon.
The project, dubbed Lunar Vulkan Imaging and Spectroscopy Explorer, is part of a “Priority Artemis Science” mission scheduled for 2025 or 2026. It aims to reveal the secrets of a geological anomaly that has puzzled scientists for decades. On Earth, features similar to the Gruithuisen domes are formed by silica-rich magma, but the Moon lacks the ingredients geologists believe are needed to create them.
“We have a lunar mystery in our hands!” NASA’s Caroline Capone wrote. “The domes of Gruithuisen are a geological enigma. Based on early telescopic and space observations, these domes have long been suspected to be formed by silica-rich magma, similar in composition to granite. […] The real mystery is how such silicic magmas could form on the Moon.
NASA has selected two new suites of scientific instruments that will explore the Moon.
🌋 Lunar-VISE will study a volcanic region, the Gruithuisen Domes
🍞 LEIA will study the effects of the Moon’s low gravity and radiative environment on yeast
– NASA Moon (@NASAMoon) June 3, 2022
The domes consist of two mounds, designated Mons Gruithuisen Gamma and Mons Gruithuisen Delta, and are located north of the Moon’s Gruithuisen crater. The domes do not match the surrounding terrain, which is covered with hardened basalt lava flows. Basaltic lavas, according to NASA, are fluid and thin, while silica flows are thick. The space agency compared the difference between the two to motor oil versus peanut butter.
The Gruithuisen domes were formed by eruptions of thick silicic lava, which pooled together instead of flowing outward. But it’s a mystery, because on Earth, silicic volcanoes only form in the presence of two ingredients: water and plate tectonics. Since neither exists on the Moon, scientists are baffled as to how the Gruithuisen domes formed.
The Lunar-VISE survey will use five instruments, two mounted on a stationary lander and three mounted on a mobile rover that will be provided by a commercial company. For 10 days, the Lunar-VISE will examine the top of one of the domes collecting data to help scientists understand how they were created.
“In order to truly understand these puzzling features, we need to visit the domes, explore them from the ground, and analyze rock samples,” Capone explained. “Fortunately, NASA plans to do just that! Hopefully, in just a few years, we will better understand this lunar mystery!”
The scientists behind the $35 million Lunar-VISE are Kerri Donaldson Hanna and Adrienne Dove of the University of Central Florida.
“There is potentially a treasure trove of knowledge waiting to be uncovered that will not only help inform future robotic and human exploration of the moon, but may also help us better understand the history of our own planet as well. than other planets in the solar system,” Donaldson Hanna said in a statement.