Panoramic image taken by the Chang'e 5 lander collecting lunar samples. Credit: CNSA (China National Space Administration) / CLEP (China Lunar Exploration Program) / GRAS (Ground Research Application System)

Exotic Materials Found in Moon Samples Returned By China

Astronomers discovered unusual materials that could have been brought to the landing site of the module from a huge distance of up to 1300 kilometers.

Chinese astronomers presented the first report on the study of lunar soil samples, which were delivered to Earth in December 2020 as part of the Chang’e-5 mission. According to the recent data, approximately 10 percent of the lunar samples have a chemical composition that is not characteristic of the place where they were taken.

Chang’e 5’s Exotic Lunar Samples: Everything you need to know

The mission

The Chang’e 5 mission started on November 23, 2020. One of the tasks was the delivery of lunar soil to Earth, by the way, the first since 1976. A module separated from the orbiter and landed in the Ocean of Storms near Rumker Peak.

Two kilograms of lunar samples

It collected almost two kilograms of lunar rock samples, which were successfully delivered to Earth on December 16, 2020. As it turned out, among them were fragments of the youngest lunar soil that has ever been delivered to Earth for research in a laboratory.

Geological mapping

Yuqi Qian of China Geological University and his team performed preliminary analyzes of rock fragments and lunar dust. This was the so-called geological mapping, designed to separate “local” rocks from “exotic”. Such a process is intended to help to identify the features of the landing area of ​​the descent module.

One of the youngest geologic regions

The study found that the landing site is one of the youngest geologic regions of the Moon, about two billion years old. The lunar samples delivered to Earth, in turn, represent a rather loose soil formed over two billion years as a result of fragmentation and crushing of rocks under the influence of meteorite and asteroid impacts.

Local material

According to the report, 90 percent of the material collected by the Chang’e 5 module is likely local. Scientists believe that they were formed directly in the area of ​​the module landing and its immediate vicinity. This type of regolith is known as marine basalts, a volcanic rock that covers most of the near side of the Moon. It is clearly visible to observers in the form of dark gray areas.

Exotic materials

The remaining 10 percent of the fragments studied were found to be “foreign”. According to the researchers, these samples have a completely different, “exotic” chemical composition compared to marine basalts. This is probably due to the fact that these fragments were brought to the landing site of the module from other areas, including very remote ones. This is possible in the case of collisions of cosmic bodies with the lunar surface.

Fragments of meteorites and asteroids

As recent studies have shown, the Moon at an early stage of its development was subjected to massive space “bombing”. Considering this, experts suggested that some of the “alien” material in 10 percent of the samples studied could be fragments of meteorites or small asteroids that hit the lunar surface in antiquity.

Chang'e-5's landing site and nearby impact craters that could be the sources of the exotic materials found in the samples. Credit: Qian et al. 2021
Chang’e 5’s landing site and nearby impact craters that could be the sources of the exotic materials found in the lunar samples. Credit: Qian et al. 2021

Volcanic vents

In addition, Chinese scientists, in collaboration with colleagues from the Universities of Brown and Münster, studied granular inclusions in soil samples created from rapidly cooled vitreous material. Analysis has shown that these “glass balls” are identical in composition to materials from the now extinct volcanic vents known as Sharpe and Meran.

Impact craters

These impact craters are located 160 kilometers northeast and 230 kilometers southeast, respectively, of the probe landing site. In fact, the fragments delivered to Earth provide new insight into the very violent volcanic activity on the Moon in the distant past.

Huge distances

By the way, the report suggests that some “alien” materials could have been brought to the landing site of the module from a huge distance of up to 1300 kilometers, which indicates powerful processes that literally once shook the surface of the Moon.

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Atkinson, N. (2021, September 26). Chang’e-5 returned an Exotic collection of moon rocks. Universe Today. (2021, September 24). Exotic mix in China’s delivery of moon rocks.
Qian, Y., Xiao, L., Head, J., Bogert, C. van der, & Hiesinger, H. (2021, June 28). The exotic materials at THE chang’e-5 landing site. CO Meeting Organizer EPSC2021.
Torbet, G. (2021, September 25). China’s lunar sample Contains glassy BEADS, Impact Fragments. Digital Trends.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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