China Moon Trip Reveals Recent Volcanic Activity


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Closeup picture of the Moon

In December 2020, China’s Chang’e 5, the first Chinese sample-return mission, returned to Earth with a surprise. The mission uncovered samples containing the youngest volcanic substance from the moon ever to be discovered. These findings could help scientists understand the moon’s history and geology, and maybe even the Solar System.
The Chang’e 5 is China’s fifth lunar exploration from the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program. Chang’e 5 was designed and developed by the Chinese Academy of Space Technology, or CAST. Chang’e 5’s launch weight is about 8200 kg and has a structure with four units, an ascent unit, lander, return vehicle, and service module. Some of Chang’e 5’s components are based on Chang’e 3, a mission from 2013. This spacecraft also introduced completely new technologies, which made the mission itself incredibly ambitious. The Chang’e 5 is the fifth and most recent Chang’e of a long line. Named after the Chinese Moon Goddess, the mission launched on November 23, 2020, and arrived on the Moon on December 1st. The spacecraft collected 1,731 g of moon matter before returning on December 16, 2020.
The 1,731 grams of moon matter extracted from the moon became incredibly meaningful in moon geology. The sample was revealed to be the most recent volcanic activity recorded from the moon, at least a billion years younger than the previous samples from missions in the 1960s and 1970s. The sample is calculated to be about 1.97 billion years old, remarkably younger than the moon itself. The moon’s surface does not alter over time as Earth’s does, so samples such as Chang’e 5’s helps scientists better learn the history of its surface and geology.
There are volcanoes on the moon. The dark spots in the images you see of the moon are lava plains. Lava plains on the moon are a very visually dominant portion of the moon and are dark areas of basalt caused by volcanoes that were once active. The rocks collected from the Apollo Mission are from cooled lava, previously erupted and spread on the lower side of the moon. Today, there are no active volcanoes on the surface of the moon, but we continue to find more data of earlier eruptions, including Chang’e 5’s samples.
Chang’e 5 was triumphant in what it brought back to Earth. With a mission to retrieve samples from the moon, Chang’e 5’s findings were out of this world. Scientists are thrilled with this discovery of the most recent moon rock and are excited to collect and observe more recent activity on the moon.