The Chandrayaan-1 C1XS instrument has detected X-ray signals from the moon, indicating the presence of spot traces of magnesium, aluminum and silicon in a region near one of NASA’s old Apollo landing sites. The C1XS X-ray camera is helping scientists map the composition of the Moon in greater detail than has ever been done, and could help settle a long-running debate over lunar formation.

“These data are the building blocks of the first global mineralogical map of the moon – key to understanding our only natural satellite,” said Detlef Koschny, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Chandrayaan-1 project scientist.

The European-built C1XS X-ray camera caught the short X-ray burst from the moon when a small solar flare sparked fluorescence on the lunar surface. The flare was about 20 times weaker than the lowest limit the C1XS camera was designed to detect.

“The quality of the flare signal detected from the moon clearly demonstrates that C1XS is in excellent condition and has survived the passage of Chandrayaan-1 through the Earth’s radiation (or van Allen) belts with very little damage,” said the camera’s principal investigator Manuel Grande.

The camera may yield new insight because of its sensitivity, researchers said. “The instrument has exceeded expectations as to its sensitivity and has proven by its performance that it is the most sensitive X-ray spectrometer of its kind in history,” said Shyama Narendranath, the Chandrayaan-1 instrument operations scientist at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

India launched the Chandrayaan-1 toward the moon in October 2008 and entered orbit a month later armed with 11 scientific instruments to map the lunar surface and its composition. The spacecraft also dropped a small probe that slammed into the moon to take close-up photographs and test technologies for future landers.

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