China Creates a High-Resolution Atlas of the Moon

The Geologic Atlas of the Lunar Globe. Credit: CAS via Xinhua handout

Multiple space agencies are looking to send crewed missions to the Moon’s southern polar region in this decade and the next. Moreover, they intend to create the infrastructure that will allow for a sustained human presence, exploration, and economic development. This requires that the local geography, resources, and potential hazards be scouted in advance and navigation strategies that do not rely on a Global Positioning System (GPS) developed. On Sunday, April 21st, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) released the first complete high-definition geologic atlas of the Moon.

This 1:2.5 million scale geological set of maps provides basic geographical data for future lunar research and exploration. According to the Institute of Geochemistry of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the volume includes data on 12,341 craters, 81 impact basins, 17 types of lithologies, 14 types of structures, and other geological information about the lunar surface. This data will be foundational to China’s efforts in selecting a site for their International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) and could also prove useful for NASA planners as they select a location for the Artemis Base Camp.

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The Moon had Volcanoes More Recently Than Previously Believed

New measurements of lunar rocks have demonstrated that the ancient moon generated a dynamo magnetic field in its liquid metallic core (innermost red shell). The results raise the possibility of two different mechanisms — one that may have driven an earlier, much stronger dynamo, and a second that kept the moon’s core simmering at a much slower boil toward the end of its lifetime. Credit: Hernán Cañellas/Benjamin Weiss

Fifty years ago, NASA and the Soviet space program conducted the first sample-return missions from the Moon. This included lunar rocks brought back to Earth by the Apollo astronauts and those obtained by robotic missions that were part of the Soviet Luna Program. The analysis of these rocks revealed a great deal about the Moon’s composition, formation, and geological history. In particular, scientists concluded that the rocks were formed from volcanic eruptions more than three billion years ago.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence in lunar exploration as NASA and other space agencies have sent robotic missions to the Moon (in preparation for crewed missions). For instance, China has sent multiple orbiters, landers, and rovers to the Moon as part of the Chang’e program, including sample-return missions. A new study led by planetary scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) analyzed samples obtained by the Chang’e-5 rover dated to two billion years ago. Their research could provide valuable insight into how young volcanism shaped the lunar surface.

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