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The X-ray spectrometer on the SMART-1 spacecraft has made the first remote-sensing detection of calcium on the surface of the Moon.
This was not a surprise, as scientists already knew that calcium is an important building block in lunar rocks. Other chemical elements spotted by their X-ray glow were aluminum, silicon and iron.
The detections are part of the current verification and calibration phase for SMART-1, which was launched in September 2003. The European spacecraft has taken a circuitous path to the Moon but is now orbiting our rocky satellite – 280 miles (450 kilometers) above the surface at closest approach.
SMART-1’s X-ray spectrometer, D-CIXS, measures the X-rays from the Sun that reflect off the lunar surface. Elements on the ground can be detected by the fact that they each absorb particular frequencies in X-ray light.
Researchers plan to make a map of the elemental abundances across the Moon’s globe. The detection of calcium was made in the dark lunar basin known as Mare Crisium. The observation was aided by a coincidental solar flare.
“The Sun was kind to us,” said Manuel Grande of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, and leader of the D-CIXS instrument team. “It set off a large X-ray flare just as we took our first look downwards at the lunar surface.”