New Moon Rock Found By Chinese Researchers Provides Insight Into Our Natural Satellite

A new fragment of moon rock has been found by China’s unmanned Yutu rover. The rock’s discovery, which the Guardian noted was part of the Chang’e-3 lunar mission, is unlike any other sample collected by previous missions.

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The new moon rock basalt was found in an impact crater within the moon’s Mare Imbrium area, and contains what unnamed officials are calling very “unique compositional characteristics.”

China’s Chang’e-3 lunar mission deployed the Yutu rover — which is nicknamed “Jade Rabbit” and is the first lander to be deployed there in about 40 years — on a relatively “young,” dried pool of lava in 2013. Its study, which the Guardian reported will be examined in the online journal Nature Communications, focuses on enhancing readings from satellite instruments and providing new insight into the moon.

China's moon rover that found the moon rock is similar in nature to NASA's mars rover. (AP Photo/NASA) China’s moon rover that found the moon rock is similar in nature to NASA’s mars rover. [Photo by AP Photo/NASA]Further research was conducted by Chinese geologists and planetary scientists. This team was led by Zongcheng Ling, an astronomer at Shangdong University. The new moon rock was analyzed using a pair of optical spectrometers on board the mission’s rover.

“Radioactive elements deep in the interior heated up the rock beneath the crust,” explained the Guardian, which noted that Earth’s moon is believed to have formed when a comet about the size of Mars crashed into our planet, creating debris that cooled over time.

“500 million years later, volcanic lava slurped into impact craters on the moon to form the so-called ‘seas’ or maria.”

The new moon rock that has been found is believed to contain lava that flowed from the moon’s core approximately three billion years ago, and is believed to contain titanium content that is rich in iron oxide.

Moon rock found by Chinese researchers believed to have been formed from dried "young" lava, much like from this Nicaragua volcano, (AP Photo/Esteban Felix) Moon rock found by Chinese researchers believed to have been formed from dried “young” lava, much like from this Nicaragua volcano. [Photo by AP Photo/Esteban Felix]“The diversity tells us that the Moon’s upper mantle is much less uniform in composition than Earth’s,” said Bradley Joliff, a researcher with the Washington University of St. Louis who is partnering with the Chinese scientists. “Correlating chemistry with age, we can see how the moon’s volcanism changed over time.”

Essentially, the Guardian explained, minerals in molten rock tend to crystallize at different temperatures, thus the newly found moon rock provides some insight into the deep interior of the moon.

According to Popular Mechanics, meanwhile, Thomas Walters of the Smithsonian Institute and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, was likewise quick to label the moon rock’s discovery as “significant”.

“It’s not terribly surprising that [Ling and colleagues] found a type of basalt that had not been seen or sampled before, but I think it’s nonetheless significant. This type of find improves the picture we can paint of the moon’s evolutionary history. The moon still has a lot of surprises. I think it’s fair to say we really don’t understand the moon nearly as well as many people may think. Maybe even less than we thought we did just 10 years ago.”

“Some scientists think the heat of this impact liquified the entire moon into what was basically an enormous ball of magma. Others think that the impact wasn’t quite as energy-intense, and gave the moon just a partial lava ocean. Because our Moon’s origin is so inextricably tied to our own planet’s history, figuring out which of these two paths is the truth will help scientists to better understand how Earth cooled and formed in the aftermath,” Walters continued.

China — in addition to Japan and India — have rolled out new lunar orbiters on their own rockets in recent years, the Guardian noted, joining the United States and Russia, which started back in the 1970’s.

Scientists estimate that Earth’s moon is approximately 4.5 billion years old.

[Image by Steve Senne/AP Photo]