NASA launches ‘priority’ plan to investigate strange domes spotted on the Moon | Science | News

The US space agency is looking to investigate puzzling lunar geological features called the Gruithuisen Domes. These domes are two mysterious structures made of a granite-like rock that scientists suspect are formed by silica-rich magma. These mounds have puzzled researchers, as such structures on Earth could only be created in the presence of both water and volcanic activity caused by shifting tectonic plates, neither of which exist on the Moon.

By leveraging its private space industry connections, NASA hopes to launch the Lunar Vulkan Imaging and Spectroscopy Explorer (Lunar-VISE), which consists of a suite of five instruments.

Two of these will be mounted onto a stationary lander on the lunar surface, while the remaining three will be attached to a mobile rover.

The rover will have to scale the top of one of these Gruithuisen Domes within ten Earth days in order to explore its chemical composition and understand these structures.

Researchers believe the Lunar VISE, along with the Lunar Explorer Instrument for space biology Applications (LEIA) will collect data which will be vital for future missions to the Moon.

Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate said: “The two selected studies will address important scientific questions related to the Moon.

“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.”

LEIA, the second selected mission, is a small CubeSat-based device that will provide biological research on the Moon “which cannot be simulated or replicated with high fidelity on the Earth or International Space Station”.

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Both of these missions will be delivered to the Moon through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, which is a key part of their Artemis lunar exploration plans.

According to NASA: “The science and technology payloads sent to the Moon’s surface will help lay the foundation for human missions on and around the Moon.

“The agency has made seven task order awards to CLPS providers for lunar deliveries between in the early 2020s with more delivery awards expected through 2028.”

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