China’s Moon mission returned youngest ever lava samples to Earth, according to the Beijing-based China National Space Administration. The data showed that there are at least three different types of lavas on the lunar surface. Scientists were able to identify the ages and compositions of these lavas by analyzing their chemistry and mineralogy.
Experts from 40 different research institutions in 17 countries took part in the study. Data was collected by a ground-based gamma ray spectrometer and an on-board lunar exploration device called Chang’e 5 T1. The latter is named after China’s first moon probe, Chang’e 1. NASA also contributed to the project with the spectrometer.
On December 15, 2016, Chang’e 5 T1 came back to our planet after orbiting the Moon for over a year. The probe has brought back more than 140GB of data concerning the lunar surface. These samples were found to be similar to those returned by the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976.
The gamma ray spectrometer on Chang’e 5 T1 obtained high-resolution gamma-ray spectra of the Moon. The data showed that the Moon’s surface layers are heterogeneous. They have been changing throughout time, due to magma moving closer to the surface from deep inside the lunar body.
This discovery is very important for researchers as it could give them a better perspective of the Moon’s evolution. The study was published in the journal Nature Communications on November 14, 2017 .
The Chang’e 5 T1 mission also brought back the youngest volcanic samples ever recorded on our natural satellite. They are just 800 million years old or younger. Around 3.5 billion years ago, the Moon was still very young. Its surface was not as smooth as it is now and there were a large number of eruptions happening on its surface. Since the Moon cooled off, a lot of volcanic activity has stopped.
Using data from the spectrometer and Chang’e 5 T1’s on-board laser altimeter, astrophysicists determined that some of the Moon’s largest volcanoes were still active after 800 million years ago. The most recent eruptions happened around four billion years ago and created lunar maria, which cover about 16% of the Moon’s surface.
They were formed by ancient volcanic eruptions and were the reason why the darker side of our natural satellite was called the Man in the Moon. Data from Chang’e 5 T1 suggests that some of these eruptions lasted for a very long time . It also shows that lunar maria cover much more surface than previous studies suggested.
For a long time, scientists thought that lunar maria were formed by large basaltic eruptions around three billion to four billion years ago. But newer data from Chang’e 5 T1 reveals that some volcanic eruptions happened over a long time span. Some of the largest lunar maria were formed by volcanoes, which erupted after 800 million years ago .
The Moon is constantly bombarded with meteorites and other small objects from space. These collisions propelled some parts of its crust internally and created lighter rocks.