China’s Chang’e-5 lunar mission lobbed back to Earth samples of the Moon.
Credit: CNSA/CLEP

China’s highly successful Chang’e-5 lunar mission retrieved about 4 pounds (1,731 grams) of samples. Its lander-ascender combination successfully touched down on the near side of the Moon on December 1, collecting samples from both the lunar surface and beneath.

Credit: CASC

The ascender later rocketed the specimens off the Moon for transfer to an orbiter/returner for transport back to Earth.

A return capsule containing the lunar collectibles landed in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in the early hours of December 17.

According to China’s Xinhua news agency, specialists have set up special storage facilities, constructed laboratories for sample processing and analysis, and developed detailed operating procedures to ensure that lunar samples are not contaminated as far as possible.

 

Credit: National Astronomical Observatories, CAS

Credit: National Astronomical Observatories, CAS

 

Non-destructive analysis

The Chang’e-5 return specimens will be first analyzed non-destructively, said Xiao Long, a researcher at the China University of Geosciences.

Scanning electron microscope. Credit: National Astronomical Observatories, CAS

Xiao told the Science and Technology Daily that this analysis could indicate the condition of the samples.

Zhao Yuyan with Jilin University has stated that a method for non-destructive analysis is to obtain the samples’ element composition and content information. Researchers do this by analyzing the wavelength and intensity of the characteristic fluorescence X-rays generated by different sample elements, Zhao said.

Credit: Image Society of Science and Technology, CAS

The Xinhua news story notes that researchers are also implementing microanalysis of the samples to use them as sparingly as possible. The allowable amount of the samples under test is usually only about one percent of the constant, with a weight of about 1 to 15 milligrams.

Given the preciousness of lunar samples, it is necessary to further improve the sensitivity and resolution of the instruments, and develop new technologies and methods, Zhao added.

High purity nitrogen supply system. Credit: National Astronomical Observatories, CAS

By analyzing the samples, scientists can correct the previous mathematical models for estimating the surface age of celestial bodies. They can also provide significant understanding of the geological evolution of the Moon.

X-ray fluorescence analyzer. Credit:

Extended mission

Meanwhile, the China National Space Agency (CNSA) has reported that the orbiter of the Chang’e-5 mission, which completed its major task of returning the lunar samples to the Earth, has been sent on an extended mission.

The spacecraft is heading toward a gravitationally stable point in space about 1.5 million kilometers away from the Earth: the Sun-Earth Lagrange point known as L1.

When Chang’e-5’s orbiter reaches that position, it will carry out observations of the environment, the sun, and perform operational tests.

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