“I can’t wait for them to start collecting science data,” says Rachel Klima, a planetary geologist on the science team at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “I’m thrilled to be able to join them on this mission as we work to better understand the resources available on the Moon while also learning more about how the Moon evolved.”
Efforts in science
Most of the mission’s scientific observations will be made once Danuri arrives at the Moon, where it will orbit 100 kilometers above the lunar surface for a year. KGRS has a wider energy range than previous -ray detectors sent to the Moon.
Scientists hope it will produce the most detailed maps of the distribution of elements such as iron, titanium, uranium, and thorium.
Kyeong-ja Kim, the principal investigator for the instrument and a planetary geoscientist at the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources in Daejeon, says the spectrometer is also sensitive enough to detect hydrogen, which can be used to infer the presence of water on the Moon’s surface and create a water-resource map of the entire Moon. Previous probes, she says, have struggled to map the presence of water beyond the poles, where it is relatively abundant.
KMAG will precisely measure the magnetic field on the surface. According to Garrick-Bethell, who is part of the instrument’s science team, it will also study electric currents induced by the solar wind’s magnetic field, which streams out into space from the Sun. Investigating how these currents flow through the Moon may reveal what the Moon is made of deep within.
Danuri will use simultaneous measurements from two NASA probes currently circling the Moon to accomplish this, according to Garrick-Bethell. He says this “will make a beautiful experiment that was only briefly attempted in the Apollo era, but not over the entire Moon.”
Today’s launch, scientists hope, will pave the way for South Korean missions to land on the Moon and visit near-Earth asteroids.
Danuri is the first in a long line of spacecraft expected to visit the Moon in the coming year, including India’s Chandrayaan-3, which will send a lander and rover to the Moon’s surface, and the first mission in NASA’s Artemis program, which will take an uncrewed flight around the Moon in preparation for a human landing in 2025.