China’s Chang’e 4 was the first mission to land on the far side of the moon. They have made a few unexpected discoveries, mainly as it relates to the composition of lunar soil.
The Chang’e 4 lander landed in the Von Kármán Crater in January 2019 as reported in my article China’s Jade Rabbit 2 Rover explores the Far Side for future Moon Base.
This crater lies on the floor of the South Pole-Aitken Basin. The lander then dispatched the Yutu-2 rover aka Jade Rabbit, with various equiptment, including a spectrometer to measure the composition of elements in the soil via using reflected light.
Using the mass spectrometer, scientists from the National Astronomical Observatories of Chinese Academy of Sciences were able to detect minerals and determine their chemical composition. Understanding the composition of the mantle gives planetary scientists of how planets evolved from their creation from a ball of spinning gas and dust.
To their surprise, instead of a lot of plagioclase rock, the rover detected an abundance of olivine and pyroxene.
The Scientists published their findings in the journal Nature on May 16, revealing that the composition of the lunar surface at the South Pole-Aitken Basin is a little different to what was expected.
So why is this so surprising?
Chinese Academy of Sciences Moon discovery – The Moon has unusual geology
Before this discovery, the core theory posits that the moon wasn’t always quite as cold and dead as it is today.
Instead it was a molten marble full of magma oceans. These oceans cooled, depositing the green-colored olivine or the low-calcium pyroxene deeper into the lunar mantle. Less dense minerals, such as aluminum silicate or plagioclase, floated to the top, giving the moon a series of geological layers like Earth.
Chinese scientists expected to see these elements much deeper in the mantle. Thus the authors suggest they were ejected by a meteor striking the lunar surface. The Yutu-2 rover is exploring close to the 72-kilometer Finsen Crater, so it is possible that minerals may have been sprayed across the surface during that crater’s creation.
No study of the lunar mantle had previously occurred despite NASA’s Apollo missions and Russian Rovers on the moon. That makes China’s mission important. Still, further work will be necessary to create a complete understanding of the mantle’s composition, due to the complexities of studying moon minerals on a planetary body hundreds of thousands of miles away.
“Understanding the composition of the lunar mantle is critical for testing whether a magma ocean ever existed, as postulated,” said co-author Li Chunlai, in a press release. “It also helps advance our understanding of the thermal and magmatic evolution of the moon.”
More moon missions are in the works….or should i say mining expeditions.
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