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Following over four decades of minor interest in our closest cosmic neighbor, a Chinese rover pushes forward moon exploration with new space rock. Chinese researchers recently reported that a sample of lunar rock provided by rover Yutu is different from anything past sample return missions had brought.
Researchers involved in the Chang’e-3 moon mission, China’s first successful attempt to land a unmanned craft on the moon, unveiled that the volcanic rock samples analyzed by the mission’s rover Yutu were never seen before.
Scientists based their findings on spectrometer data provided by Yutu’s instruments over the course of its stay on the lunar soil. Yutu was deployed on the moon in Dec. 2013 after more than 40 years of human absence on the lunar surface (U.S. astronauts’ last visit to the moon was in 1972).
After 30 days of exploring the landing site in the Imbrium basin, the tiny rover lost ability to move, but it continued to be functional. In the meantime, scientific data it has beamed back to Earth was of a much greater quality than what U.S. and Soviet missions had managed to produce in the 1970s.
Zongcheng Ling, lead author of the study which was published in the scientific journal Nature Communications and researcher with the China-based Shandong University, explained that the newly found space rock is a volcanic rock that emerged when the hot ancient lava in the Imbrium basin had cooled. Scientist also found that the rock is relatively young when compared with other rocks found on the moon or in lunar meteorites.
The rock’s chemical composition is different from anything Apollo and Soviets’ Luna programs had revealed. Laboratory tests showed that the piece of volcanic rock known as a basalt is rich in iron, olivine and titanium oxide.
Ling believes that the unique makeup could help scientists gain a deeper understanding of the moon’s subsurface, from which the rock originates, and on the lunar history.
Imbrium basin is a large lava flood plain that you can see with no optical instrument if you watch the moon from the northern hemisphere. The basin is located at 11 o’clock on the extreme outer edge of a huge dark spot which makes up the right ‘eye’ of the mysterious ‘man in the moon.’
Other planetary scientists noted that they weren’t surprised with the new discovery because they were aware that we still hold little knowledge of the moon since recent space exploration missions would rather target more remote objectives such as Mars or asteroids.
Image Source: Phys