China’s Chang’e-5 lunar mission lobbed back to Earth samples of the Moon.


Results from China’s Moon sample effort and Mars lander mission are being presented in scientific journals, showcasing new findings.

China’s Chang’e-5 lunar sample return spacecraft landed on December 1, 2020, touching down in the Northern Oceanus Procellarum region of the Moon. The mission collected close to a total of 2 kilograms lunar collectibles, rocketing them back to Earth on December 16, 2020.

Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects Chang’e-5 lunar sample return capsule.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Young rocks

The Chang’e-5 lunar specimens have been identified as the youngest rocks ever found on the Moon, a billion years younger than lunar rocks previously gathered.

“Age and composition of young basalts on the Moon, measured from samples returned by Chang’e-5” has been published in Science magazine. Lead author of the work is Xiaochao Che of the Beijing Sensitive High Resolution Ion Micro Probe (SHRIMP) Center, at the Institute of Geology of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences in Beijing.

Age and composition of young basalts on the Moon, measured from samples returned by China’s Chang’e-5 mission.
Credit: Xiaochao Che, et al.

Orbital data indicate that the youngest volcanic units on the Moon are basalt lavas in Oceanus Procellarum, a region with high levels of the heat-producing elements potassium, thorium, and uranium.

Impact chronology

The Chang’e-5 mission collected samples of these young lunar basalts and returned them to Earth for laboratory analysis, the paper explains. The age of lunar lava, along with chemical and mineralogical examination of the specimens constrains the lunar impact chronology of the inner Solar System and the thermal evolution of the Moon.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“There is no evidence for high concentrations of heat-producing elements in the deep mantle of the Moon that generated these lavas, so alternate explanations are required for the longevity of lunar magmatism,” the paper points out.

Alexander Nemchin from the Space Science and Technology Center of Australia’s Curtin University is also an author of the research paper.

Nemchin said that researchers have determined the age of the lunar rock samples during remote sessions with the Beijing laboratory using large mass spectrometers.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Further questions

Another co-author of the research paper is Gretchen Benedix, also from Curtin’s Space Science and Technology Center.

The new results would provide researchers with more calibration points for cratering chronology, Benedix told the Xinhua news agency, enabling them to derive more accurate and higher resolution ages across many planetary surfaces.

“These results confirm what experts had long predicted based on remotely obtained images of the Moon and raise further questions as to why these young basalts exist,” Benedix said.

Xinhua reports that the task will now focus on finding a mechanism that will explain how this relatively recent heating of the Moon may have supported the formation of basaltic magmas with temperatures exceeding 1,000 degrees Celsius, and ultimately help researchers improve age dating of the entire Solar System.

Lander and Zhurong Mars rover.
Credit: CNSA/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Mars lander

Meanwhile, in a new paper published in the Earth and Planetary Science Letters journal, China’s Mars landing mission has also provided some intriguing new findings.

The lead author of the paper – “Geomorphologic exploration targets at the Zhurong landing site in the southern Utopia Planitia of Mars” – is Binlong Ye of the Department of Earth Sciences and Laboratory for Space Research at the University of Hong Kong.

Credit: CCTV/CNSA/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The Zhurong rover has been wheeling about within the southern Utopia Planitia since May 2021. According to the newly released paper, the landing site exhibits volatile-driven periglacial landforms and pitted cones. The landing site itself is located near a key geomorphological boundary between landforms. Zhurong’s ground penetrating radar will provide critical ice detection and resource characterization.

China’s Zhurong rover.
Credit: Liang Ding, et al.

Mud volcanism

“The Zhurong landing site contains a wide range of geomorphic exploration targets including troughs, raised ridges, pitted cones, mesas, sand dunes and crater ejecta,” the paper explains.

Aspects of all of these features, the paper continues, “suggest formation through interactions between volatiles, sediments, and magma. Pitted cones are invaluable windows into the subsurface and intriguing astrobiology targets for Martian life considering that they potentially formed from diapiric upwelling of fine-grained sediments (i.e. mud volcanism), a process that on Earth is often associated with methane release.”

China’s Zhurong Rover.
Credit: CNSA/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The ground-penetrating radar onboard Zhurong is intended to “provide fundamentally new perspectives on the presence, distribution, and abundance of subsurface water-ice, a strategic natural resource for future crewed Mars exploration,” the paper notes.

To access “Age and composition of young basalts on the Moon, measured from samples returned by Chang’e-5,” go to:

Also, go to this video detailing the research and experiments on the Chang’e-5 lunar soil samples now underway in China at:

To access “Geomorphologic exploration targets at the Zhurong landing site in the southern Utopia Planitia of Mars,” go to:

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