The Yutu rover, part of the Chang’e-3 unmanned lunar mission, has identified a type of basalt unlike anything collected by previous Soviet or US missions
Chinese scientists have identified a new kind of rock on the moon. An unmanned Chinese lunar lander, launched in 2013, has explored an ancient flow of volcanic lava and identified mineral composition entirely unlike anything collected by the American astronauts between 1969 and 1972, or by the last Soviet lander in 1976.
The news, dispatched from an impact crater in the Mare Imbrium, is another reminder that planetary exploration is no longer the preserve of the Russians, the Americans or the European Space Agency: Japan, India and China have all launched lunar orbiters on their own rockets. Britain launched its own satellite, Prospero, on its own rocket, Black Arrow, from its own launch site in Woomera, Australia, in 1971 and then withdrew from the space race.
Since the end of the Apollo programme, US scientists have conducted their lunar research mostly from orbiters. Chang’e-3, China’s unmanned lunar mission, put down a rover called Yutu or “Jade Rabbit” on a comparatively young lava flow. This rover proceeded to identify a mineralogical mystery on the moon, a basalt with “unique compositional characteristics.”
The study, reported in Nature Communications, is expected to enhance readings from satellite instruments, and to throw new light on the origins of Earth’s nearest neighbour.
The moon is thought to have formed when a Mars-sized object crashed into planet Earth early in the history of the solar system.…