Chinese Probe Close to Solving Mystery Behind Moon's Formation

Chinese Probe Close to Solving Mystery Behind Moon's Formation

Photo taken by the rover Yutu-2 (Jade Rabbit-2) on January 11, 2019 shows the lander of the Chang'e-4 probe.

As asteroids and space junk crashed into the surface of the moon, they cracked through the crust and kicked up pieces of the lunar mantel.

This image captured by Chang'E 4 lander shows the landscape near the landing site.

Chang'e 4 landed in a spot on the Moon known as the Von Kármán crater, in an area known as the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin.

Like numerous other rocky bodies in the inner solar system, the Moon, too, was covered in an ocean of magma that was hundreds of kilometres deep for millions of it years after it was formed, past research has suggested. Now the rover has found mantle-derived material on the floor of Von Karman crater.

"Our results support the lunar magma ocean theory, and demonstrate that the magma ocean hypothesis can be used to describe the early evolution history of the Moon", Chunlai Li, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told AFP.

"We expected to find a wealth of excavated mantle material on the flat floor of the South Pole-Aitken basin, since the originating impact would have penetrated well into and past the lunar crust".

Studying the Moon's mantle could give scientists new insights into how a large space body forms when the mantle doesn't interact with water, as it did on Earth - and could help understand how other celestial bodies formed as well.

"Instead, we found mere traces of olivine, the primary component of the Earth's upper mantle".

"The absence of abundant olivine in the SPA interior remains a conundrum", LI said. Neither the lunar samples from missions by the United States and Soviet Union, nor the remote sensing probes orbiting the Moon have provided direct evidence of the accurate composition of the lunar mantle. "One theory is that the mantle consists of equal parts olivine and pyroxene, rather than being dominated by one over the other".

"Will China Claim Ownership?"

The rover will need to explore more of its landing site to understand the mantle's composition, but the first mission to the far side of the moon is already gathering crucial data.

"It is of the utmost importance to make progress towards unpacking the geology of the lunar far side, expanding our fundamental knowledge of the Moon's formation and the origin of the crustal asymmetry that exists between its near and far sides, and preparing future sample-return missions".

Unlike the near side of the moon that always faces the Earth and offers many flat areas to touch down on, the far side is mountainous and rugged.

The detailed structure of the Moon's mantle has eluded investigators for years.

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