Landing leg of Chang’e-5 lander.


China’s Chang’e-5 lunar lander has provided the first on-location detection of water on the Moon.

The finding was published in Science Advances on January 7, written by a joint research team led by Lin Yangting and Lin Honglei from the Institute of Geology and Geophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (IGGCAS).

Data acquired by the Chang’e-5 observed water signals in reflectance spectral data from the lunar surface.

China’s Chang’e-5 robotic sample return mission.

Spectral reflectance

China’s Chang’e-5 spacecraft landed in the Northern Oceanus Procellarum basin on the Moon on December 1, 2020 and successfully returned to Earth 1.731-kilograms of lunar collectibles on December 17, 2020.

The spacecraft landed on one of the youngest mare basalts, located at a mid-high latitude on the Moon.

Chang’e-5 descent stage seen just before sunset on Februray 7, 2021.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University


Before sampling and returning the lunar specimens to Earth, the lunar mineralogical spectrometer onboard the lunar lander performed spectral reflectance measurements of the regolith and of a rock, thereby providing the extraordinary opportunity to detect lunar surface water.

Parts per million (ppm)

A quantitative spectral analysis indicates that the lunar soil at the landing site contains less than 120 ppm of water – mostly attributed to solar wind implantation. This is consistent with the preliminary analysis of the returned Chang’e-5 samples.

Context images and water content at the Chang’e-5 landing site
Credit: Lin Honglei

In contrast, however a light and vesicular rock — a light-colored and surface-pitted rock (named as CE5-Rock) — that was also analyzed revealed an estimated roughly 180 ppm of water, thus suggesting an additional water source from the lunar interior.

According to the research, “the results of compositional and orbital remote sensing analyses show that the rock may have been excavated from an older basaltic unit and ejected to the landing site of Chang’e-5. Therefore, the lower water content of the soil, as compared to the higher water content of the rock fragment, suggests that degassing of the mantle reservoir beneath the Chang’e-5 landing site took place.”

Chang’e-5 return capsule holding lunar specimens.
Credit: National Astronomical Observatories, CAS



Researchers from the National Space Science Center of CAS, the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, the Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics of CAS and Nanjing University were also involved in the study.




To view the research paper – “In situ detection of water on the Moon by the Chang’E-5 lander” – go to:

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