China has shared a look at the first moon samples to be brought back to Earth in more than 45 years.
The lunar regolith was collected by the nation’s Chang’e 5 mission that returned in December with 3.8 pounds of soil and rocks from our natural satellite.
The images show the samples as small as dust particles up to larger chunks, along with samples inside a crystal container that will go on display at the National Museum of China.
The container is designed like a ritual Chinese wine vessel, or ‘zun,’ and holds the lunar dust within a hallow sphere that represents both the moon and the Chang’5 re-entry capsule.
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China has shared a look at the first moon samples to be brought back to Earth in more than 45 years
China’s moon mission was the first to return with samples since the former Soviet Union’s Lunar 24 robotic mission in 1976 and is now the 21st mission to set down on the lunar surface.
The Chang’e-5 took off atop the Long March-5 rocket in November from the Wenchang launch site in Hainan province for what is a major advancement in the country’s space program.
The probe targeted a 4,265-foot high volcanic complex called Mons Rumker on the near side of the moon, a region known as Oceanus Procellarum, which is Latin for Ocean of Storms.
The area is ‘very unusual and nowhere near where we landed before,’ said James Head, professor of geological sciences at Brown University, following the November launch.
The lunar regolith was collected by the nation’s Chang’e 5 mission that returned in December with 3.8 pounds of soil and rocks from our natural satellite
‘It raises really important questions, because these samples are actually going to tell us how young the moon had volcanic activity, which is an indication of how recently it has been geologically active, a critical question in the evolution of the planets,’ he added.
The images show the samples as small as dust particles up to larger chunks, along with samples inside a crystal container
The probe returned December 17 with lunar rocks and soil stowed safely inside and China has provided the first official look at the cosmic wonders.
The age of the rocks and soil should help scientists fill a gap in knowledge about the history of the moon between roughly one billion and three billion years ago, Brad Jolliff, director of the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences at Washington University in the US city of St. Louis, said in an email.
They may also yield clues as to the availability of economically useful resources on the moon such as concentrated hydrogen and oxygen, Jolliff said.
‘These samples will be a treasure trove!’ Jolliff said when the probe returned in December.
‘My hat is off to our Chinese colleagues for pulling off a very difficult mission; the science that will flow from analysis of the returned samples will be a legacy that will last for many, many years, and hopefully will involve the international community of scientists.’
The age of the rocks and soil should help scientists fill a gap in knowledge about the history of the moon between roughly one billion and three billion years ago
The probe targeted a 4,265-foot high volcanic complex called Mons Rumker on the near side of the moon, a region known as Oceanus Procellarum, which is Latin for Ocean of Storms
The image shared by China show samples of fine, grainy material, along with chunks of basaltic glasses that formed on the surface by lunar volcanism, according to the image description.
Some of the soil collected in 2020 will go on display at the National Museum of China in Beijing, CGTN shared in a release.
The 38.44-centimeter tall elaborate container is a nod to the average distance between the Earth and Moon, which is 384,400 kilometers.
It is also 22.89 centimeters in width, symbolizing the time duration of Chang’e-5 mission from launch to landing, 22.89 days.
‘Eighty percent of the samples will be used for the scientific research,’ said Pei Zhaoyu, deputy chief designer of China’s Lunar Exploration Program Phase-3 of CNSA, during a press conference on January 18. The remaining 20 percent would be saved in permanent storage.
CHINA STEPS UP PLANS TO BECOME SPACE SUPERPOWER WITH MARS AND MOON MISSIONS
Officials from the Chinese space agency are working to become a space superpower alongside the US and Russia.
They have already sent the first lander to explore the far side of the Moon – sharing photos from the part of our nearest neighbour we rarely see as part of the Chang’e-4 mission.
In November 2020 they sent the Chang’e-5 space probe to the Moon to collect and return the first samples of lunar soil in 45 years.
This was done in collaboration with the European Space Agency who provided tracking information for the Chinese spaceship.
Chang’e-6 will be the first mission to explore the south pole of the Moon and is expected to launch in 2023 or 2024.
Chang’e-7 will study the land surface, composition, space environment in an overall mission, according to the Chinese space authority, while Chang’e-8 will focus on technical surface analysis.
China is also reportedly working on building a lunar base using 3D printing technology and sending a future crewed mission to the surface.
Mission number eight will likely lay the groundwork for this as it strives to verify the technology earmarked for the project.
The CNSA is also building an Earth-orbiting space station where Chinese astronauts will conduct scientific experiments, similar to the crew of the ISS.
The agency also launched a mission to Mars in summer 2020 which will see them land a rover on the surface of the red planet in February 2021.
China is also said to be working on a project to build a solar power generator in space, that would beam energy back to Earth and becoming the largest man made object in orbit.
They also have a number of ambitious space science projects including satellites to hunt for signs of gravitational waves and Earth observation spacecrafts to monitor climate change.