NASA to launch ‘priority’ mission exploring mysterious domes on Moon’s surface

WASHINGTON — NASA is to launch a “priority” mission to explore mysterious domes on the moon. The space agency announced a rover will visit the Gruithuisen Domes, a geological feature that has baffled scientists.

The domes are suspected to have been formed by a sticky magma rich in silica, similar in composition to granite. On Earth, however, formations like these need oceans of liquid water and plate tectonics to form, but without these key ingredients on the Moon, lunar scientists have been left to wonder how these domes formed and evolved over time.

The Lunar Vulkan Imaging and Spectroscopy Explorer (Lunar-VISE) investigation, slated 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 to be provided as a service by a Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative vendor.

Over the course of ten Earth days (one lunar day), Lunar-VISE will explore the summit of one of the Gruithuisen Domes. By analyzing the lunar regolith at the top of one of these domes, the data collected and returned by Lunar-VISE’s instruments will help scientists answer fundamental open questions regarding how these formations came to be.

Gruithuisen Domes on Moon
The Gruithuisen Domes on the lunar surface. (NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

Announced June 2 as part of a “Priority Artemis Science” mission, the data also will help inform future robotic and human missions to the Moon.

“We’ve got a lunar mystery on our hands! The Gruithuisen Domes are a geologic enigma,” writes NASA’s Caroline Capone. “Based on early telescopic and spacecraft observations, these domes have long been suspected to be formed by a magma rich in silica, 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. Luckily, NASA is planning to do just that! Hopefully, in just a couple of years we will better understand this lunar mystery!”

Adding to the growing list of commercial deliveries slated to explore more of the Moon than ever before under Artemis, NASA has also selected a second investigation. The Lunar Explorer Instrument for space biology Applications (LEIA) science suite is a small CubeSat-based device. LEIA will provide biological research on the Moon – which cannot be simulated or replicated with high fidelity on the Earth or International Space Station – by delivering the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to the lunar surface and studying its response to radiation and lunar gravity.

“The two selected studies will address important scientific questions related to the Moon,” says Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “The first will study geologic processes of early planetary bodies that are preserved on the Moon, by investigating 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.”

Report by Dean Murray, South West News Service

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