What makes Chandrayaan-3's landing on south pole of the Moon so special?

'The region’s characteristics hold promise for deep space scientific discoveries'

moon-landing-celebrations-salil School children in Kolkata celebrating landing of Chandrayaan-3 on the Moon | Salil Bera

Chandrayaan-3, the lunar mission of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) touched down on the south pole of the Moon on Wednesday, in what has been hailed as a giant leap for India. The landing marks India's emergence as a space superpower along with three other nations—the United States, China, and Russia.

What makes this mission special is that ISRO managed to land Chandrayaan-3 on the south pole which is the southernmost point on the Moon.

The south pole is considered to be a compelling region for future scientific explorations and missions owing to the presence of water ice in the area. The region, which is permanently shadowed, features the largest crater on the Moon. Craters contain fossil record of hydrogen, water ice which is very important to future explorations, and other volatiles—chemical elements or compounds in a solid state that melt or vaporise at moderately warm temperatures—dating from the early solar system.

Water ice can be used to sustain human presence on the Moon, providing drinking water, oxygen, and fuel for rockets. It can also be split into hydrogen and oxygen, which can be used as rocket propellant.

Spanning a significant area of the lunar surface, the region experiences extreme temperatures. In permanently shadowed areas, the temperatures can drop to as low as -203°C. Some of the permanently shadowed regions haven’t seen sunlight in billions of years.

The region’s unique characteristics hold promise for unprecedented deep space scientific discoveries that could help us learn about our place in the universe and venture farther into the solar system, states NASA.

“Lunar volatiles are likely trapped in permanently shadowed regions of the Moon, and those volatiles have a story to tell us about the history of the solar system,” NASA’s Chief Exploration Scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington Jake Bleacher has been quoted as saying.