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Chinese lunar specimen contains glassy pearls and impact fragments

China’s Chang’e 5 lunar mission made history late last year when it returned the first moon sample in over 40 years. Taken from a region of the moon with very young rocks where the Chang’e 5 lander was based, the sample was analyzed and found to contain “exotic” fragments.

PhD Student Yuqi Qian from the China University of Geosciences presented the first results of the sample analysis at the Europlanet Science Congress 2021 conference this week, revealing more about this rare and valuable moon dust.

Panoramic image taken after sampling the lunar surface by Chang'e-5.
Panoramic image taken after sampling the lunar surface by Chang’e-5. The four dark trenches in the lower right corner of this image are where the samples were taken. Abundant centimeter-sized rocks exist on the surface around the Chang’e-5 landing site. CNSA (China National Space Administration) / CLEP (China Lunar Exploration Program) / GRAS (Ground Research Application System)

The vast majority of the sample, at around 90%, comes from the area immediately around the lander. The location is on the near face of the moon, near the western edge, in an area called the Northern Oceanus Procellarum. Most of the material is the loose, dusty soil called regolith that covers the surface of the moon. Most of it is volcanic rocks created by lava eruptions.

This is what one would expect from a moon sample. But the remaining 10% of the sample exhibit intriguing quirks, which the researchers describe as “exotic” chemical compositions. This includes beads of glassy material that appear to come from ancient volcanic vents. These vents are located over a hundred miles from the moon landing site and may have thrown fountains of matter across the moon.

Chang'e-5 sample image
Image of Chang’e-5 sample “CE5C0400” of the surface of the Moon. This fraction of lunar material returned to Earth by Chang’e-5 weighs nearly 35 grams and was collected by a robotic arm. CNSA (China National Space Administration) / CLEP (China Lunar Exploration Program) / GRAS (Ground Research Application System)

There are also fragments which appear to have been projected by impacts, but since the rocks in this region are relatively young, these impacts must have occurred relatively recently. These fragments could have come as far as 800 miles from the landing site, the researchers said.

“All of the local and exotic materials among the samples returned from Chang’e-5 can be used to answer a number of other scientific questions,” Qian said. “By addressing these questions, we will deepen our understanding of the history of the Moon and help prepare for further exploration of the Moon.”




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