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.

Continue reading “The Moon had Volcanoes More Recently Than Previously Believed”

50-Year-Old Lunar Samples are Opened up for the First Time

Sample collection on the surface of the Moon. Apollo 16 astronaut Charles M. Duke Jr. is shown collecting samples with the Lunar Roving Vehicle in the left background. Image: NASA

NASA’s Apollo missions to the Moon brought back about 382 kilograms (842 pounds) of samples, including rocks, rock cores, rock, pebbles, sand, and dust. Scientists have studied those samples intently over the decades and have learned a lot. But they haven’t studied all of the samples.

In an impressive act of foresight, NASA left some of the samples unopened and in pristine condition. Why? Because they knew the technology used to study the samples would only improve over the decades.

Continue reading “50-Year-Old Lunar Samples are Opened up for the First Time”

Chang’e-5 Brought Home 1.7 Kilograms of Lunar Samples

Chinese scientists open the sample container from the Chang-e-5 lunar sample return mission. Credit: Xinhua

China’s Chang’e-5 lunar lander retrieved about 1.7 kilograms (3.81 pounds) of samples from the Moon, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).  The Chang’e-5 sample return capsule landed in China’s Inner Mongolia region on December 16, 2020, successfully capping a 23-day odyssey that brought back the first lunar rocks since 1976.

Continue reading “Chang’e-5 Brought Home 1.7 Kilograms of Lunar Samples”