Quirks & Quarks

Rocks from Chang'e-5 sample return mission reveal a younger side of the moon

The Chinese Chang'e-5 mission returned the first lunar samples to Earth in over 40 years, and scientists are just beginning to unpack the treasure trove of information buried within.

Chinese mission saw the return of the first lunar samples in over 40 years

This picture released by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) shows an image taken by the Chang'e-5 spacecraft after landing on the moon. The spacecraft collected lunar samples and returned them to Earth, which scientists are now analyzing. (China National Space Administration/AFP via Getty Images)

The Chinese Chang'e-5 mission returned the first lunar samples to Earth in over 40 years, and scientists are just beginning to unpack the treasure trove of information buried within.

The area targeted for the sample return mission was a part of the moon believed to be formed by volcanic activity well after the areas visited by previous missions.

"If you're trying to understand evolution of a planet, that whole evolution aspect requires getting samples from different periods of time on the Moon," planetary scientist Carolyn Crow told Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald. "So these are kind of filling in this knowledge gap that we knew we had."

Crow is part of an international team of researchers working with Chinese scientists to analyze the lunar rocks to further understand how the moon evolved. She was co-author on a recent study, published in the journal Science, that dated these particular rocks as 1.97 billion years old. For comparison, the youngest rocks brought back in the Apollo missions were three billion years old.

This photo shows technical personnel monitoring the process during the Chang'e-5 lunar probe landing on the moon at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

This week, several other results from similar analyses were published in the journal Nature, looking at how this volcanic rock cooled down, the water content of the samples, as well as understanding when volcanic activity was present on the moon.

"We're going to get a whole history of the rock," said Crow. "Not just when did it form, what was the material that it formed from, but what has happened to it since then, how did it go from where it was solidified to ultimately the spacecraft picking it up on the surface?"

Crow is an assistant Professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. You can listen to her full conversation with Bob McDonald at the link above.


Written and produced by Amanda Buckiewicz

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