NASA’s new instrument to study lunar volcanic terrain

Unveiling mysteries of the Moon’s volcanic past with the DIMPLE instrument

NASA, maintaining its momentum of robotic lunar missions via Artemis, has introduced a new payload called DIMPLE to assess the age and makeup of a volcanic mound located on the Moon’s near side. This initiative is set to help us unlock significant insights into our solar system’s history.

“DIMPLE will add to a growing body of knowledge about the Moon, which in turn helps us understand the origins of Earth and other planets in the solar system. Moreover, the more we understand about our closest neighbor, the more we can support long-term human exploration at the Moon, and someday, Mars.”

Nicola Fox, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Unveiling DIMPLE

Short for Dating an Irregular Mare Patch with a Lunar Explorer, DIMPLE will explore the Ina Irregular Mare Patch, discovered in 1971 by Apollo 15. The more we learn about this mound, the more light we can shed on the Moon’s evolution and, consequently, the history of our entire solar system.

Cost-effective exploration with CLPS

DIMPLE is the product of the third annual PRISM proposal call (Payloads and Research Investigations on the Surface of the Moon), an initiative undertaken by NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS). With a cost cap of $50 million, DIMPLE’s delivery date is scheduled for no earlier than Q2 2027, with a CLPS task order anticipated to be issued in 2024.

Rover and a spectrometer join the mission

The mission will make use of a CLPS-provided rover and a spectrometer to help determine the composition of lunar material. DIMPLE’s goal is to identify whether the Irregular Mare Patches were formed from recent or ancient volcanic activities. Analyzing the collected samples will aid in learning more about the timing of the volcanic activity that formed this feature.

What the results could mean

If the volcanic activity proves to be geologically recent, it implies that either the lunar mantle was warmer than thought or that radioactive elements contributed to small-scale eruptions continuing later in lunar evolution than anticipated. On the contrary, if the eruptions creating Ina turn out to be older, it would mean reevaluating the age and evolution of craters on the Moon, having far-reaching implications for understanding Earth’s history and that of other planets in our solar system.

Aiming to resolve debates about the Moon’s volcanic activity

Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, shared, “With the selection of DIMPLE, we aim to definitively resolve the debate on how recently the Moon was volcanically active. Not only is this a scientifically intriguing enigma that will fundamentally change our understanding of lunar thermal evolution, but this is also the demonstration of an exciting technology that can be used to measure absolute ages of a variety of geologic terrains across the solar system.”

For more details about the mission, visit the official NASA site.


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