With space interested being rekindled in the past few years and only getting stronger, it feels like we learn something new every day about our universe. For instance, a recent sample of lunar rocks shows lava flowed on the moon two billion years ago.
The lunar rock samples came from a Chinese mission to obtain moon rocks and dust. The first samples returned to Earth in 40 years, they shed new light on previous lunar activity. Chang’e 5, as the mission was called, collected young lunar basalt lava samples from the moon’s Oceanus Procellarum region.
Fox News reported the team’s findings which were led by researchers at Beijing’s Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences. “Orbital data indicate that the youngest volcanic units on the moon are basalt lavas in Oceanus Procellarum, a region with high levels of the heat-producing elements potassium, thorium, and uranium.”
The Chang’e 5 lander used a drill to collect the lunar material roughly 170 kilometers northeast of Mons Rumker, a large volcanic complex. The team then employed radioactive dating to discover their age. The researchers discovered the moon remained volcanically active far longer than previously thought. For reference, the early Apollo and Soviet missions in the 60s and 70s first shed light on moon volcanism.
Another exciting aspect of this information is the sample age. Before now, lunar samples typically were 3 billion years old or even older. Brad Joliff, a Washington University planetary scientist, issued a statement about the age’s importance. “In this study, we got a very precise age right around 2 billion years, plus or minus 50 million years. It’s a phenomenal result. In terms of planetary time, that’s a very precise determination. And that’s good enough to distinguish between the different formulations of the chronology.”
How the Moon Mission Came to be
If we haven’t collected moon samples for 40 years, what prompted the trip? As it turns out, the mission came to be because of China’s renewed space interest.
Last November, the Daily Mail reported the Chang’e 5 spaceship would spend 14 days drilling moon samples. After that, it went back into orbit and met with a returner spaceship, touching back down on Earth in December. The team brought back nearly four pounds of lunar rock samples.
This initiative allegedly began because China views outer space as a method of technological advancement, as well as national security. Further, competition with the U.S. in other areas spurred the country back into space. Nonetheless, this isn’t a “space race” such as that between the U.S. and USSR during the Cold War. The Heritage Foundation’s Senior Research Fellow, Dean Cheng, issued a statement elaborating on the claim.
In his words, this isn’t space exploration or competition of “firsts,” but space exploitation. China aims to build upon its own experiences and technology, rather than explore and discover.