Since the dawn of our species, humans have been marvelling at the celestial scenes emerging in the night-sky.
Among these phenomena is the orb that humans refer to as 'silvery', undergoing its enigmatic cycles of waxing and waning over time.
Just as it profoundly influences the physical realm with its impact on tides, the moon's sway extends to psychological and psychosomatic realms as well.
Since the dawn of history, the moon has been regarded as a universally beloved enigma, giving rise to astronomical calendars and evoking remarkable symbolism throughout the world.
Vedic civilization, being perhaps the only living, continuously-evolving, spiritual tradition without imposed breaks, shows the vital role the moon has always played, and continues to play, in the deepest layers of our collective unconscious.
In Vedic symbolism moon has close connection with soma. Soma seems to be the inner essence of the moon. In later language 'soma' and moon are synonymous.
This connection is evident within the Vedic literature itself. For instance, the Rig Veda states: 'At one draught, Indra drank at once thirty lakes filled with Soma.'
Sayana, in his commentary, suggests the gradual absorption of the collected moonlight. This light notably symbolizes the wisdom acquired from knowledge.
The correlation between the moon and the mind is elucidated in the tenth mandala of the Rig Veda, particularly in the renowned Purusha Sukta. This symbolic relationship is further elaborated upon in the Upanishads.
Soma is the plant. It is also the moon. It is the food of Gods. An intricate web of semantic connections unfolds, linking the moon, the mind, Soma, wisdom, water, and Amrita in an organic manner.
The development of the water-moon relationship within this literature, while symbolically rooted in the inner realm, is undeniably intriguing.
The moon and India
India itself was known to the rest of the nations around it as ‘Indu’, as attested by Buddhist pilgrim Hieun Tsang who visited India more than 1,300 years ago. He described India as 'Indu' because it offers the light of wisdom in a gentle and refreshing manner, akin to the moon's glow.
And that brings us to Chandrayaan missions – verily the moon missions of Indu-Desh – the moon-nation.
What are the very unique discoveries made by the Indian moon missions?
Not water as we know it but water molecules and, notably, hydroxyl radicals have been detected on the moon's surface through Chandrayaan missions. The Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) aboard Chandrayaan-1 identified the existence of both water and hydroxyl (OH) molecules on our moon by analyzing the sunlight reflected from its surface.
Chandrayaan missions also discovered water and hydroxyl molecules in relative abundance in the lunar pole region.
The source of this water remains a puzzle. A range of possibilities, including comets and ancient volcanic activity, are being considered to account for its presence.
In a lunar crater called Bullialdus near the lunar equator, M3 instrument also discovered water in a unique way. M3 discovered its central peak to be rich in hydroxyl-bearing minerals. From this it could be inferred that the impact that created the crater exposed some of the deep-seated rocks containing water or hydroxyl radicals.
This discovery raised the likelihood of discovering water beneath the lunar surface. However, this water is likely to be mixed with minerals.
Another instrument on Chandrayaan-I, the Miniature Synthetic Aperture Radar (Mini-SAR) mapped with polarized electromagnetic waves, in the north and south lunar polar regions.
The lunar poles showed the presence of water-ice in some areas, that too in the permanently hidden parts.
This ice water is believed to amount to approximately 600 million metric tons—an important revelation for potential lunar colonies and the development of economic activities on the moon.
There is also a possibility of these hydroxyl radicals on the moon playing a crucial role in bringing proto-organic molecules, important for life, to our own planet.
Given their high reactivity, the hydroxyl radicals could have interacted with organic molecules in comets and meteorites, potentially fostering the development of intricate compounds. The compounds thus formed, because of the impact by these extraterrestrial visitors, could have been later discharged into the earth atmosphere through various possibilities ranging from discharges of cometary tails or meteorite impacts.
From there, they could have well played a part in shaping the origin and progression of early life on Earth.
Currently, Chandrayaan-3 contains the following instruments which can focus effectively on lunar-water presence and potential. They are:
Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS): Mounted on the rover, it will vaporise a small amount of the lunar surface with a laser and will then analyse the resulting plasma for elements which form water or associate themselves with hydroxyl molecules.
Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS): This is also rover-mounted. It studies lunar rocks and surface for a variety of elements that can bind with water or hydroxyl radicals. These elements include sodium, magnesium, aluminum, silicon, calcium, titanium, iron etc.
Chandra’s Surface Thermophysical Experiment (ChaSTE): This is lander mounted. It uses the measure of thermal conductivity and temperature on the lunar surface which in turn can be used to study the distribution and retention of lunar water as well as ice-water.
Laser Retroreflector Array (LRA): This lander-mounted instrument employs a set of mirrors that reflect laser beams from Earth and other orbiters. This laser-based distance measuring instrument can identify sites with potential for water as well as deposits of lunar ice through topographical analysis.
The scientific investigations carried out by Chandrayaan-3, especially concerning water, will contribute to humanity's comprehension of life within the expansive realm of the cosmos.
The entire project can be viewed as a pursuit of pure knowledge and a quest for truth. A reflection of 'paraa' knowledge if you will. And it will also help in planning colonies on the moon surface in the future. That is for economic welfare and material prosperity – 'aparaa' knowledge. Both paraa and aparaa are needed for enriching humanity.
Thus continues an Indian odyssey – from the embers of the Vedic yajna to the fire trails of the Chandrayaan-3 landers.
Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.
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