Science

China finally discovers the truth behind the Moon’s “Mystery Hut”

Well, that’s disappointing.

Sorry, nerds — the Moon “Mystery Hut” is essentially no more than a large, rocky doorstop.

In December 2021, an image of a strange structure on the far side of the Moon released by the China National Space Administration went viral. The grainy picture, snapped by Chinese rover Yutu-2, was referred to as a “mystery hut” or “strange cube” due to its enigmatic shape — resembling a large structure on the lunar horizon.

The agency announced it was headed toward the object at a blazing 656 feet per hour (fast, for the Moon) to investigate more closely.

Wouldn’t you at least consider that it could be a hut? CNSA

A month on, and the rover has finally arrived. Here’s what it found.

The discovery — Slightly disappointingly, the object is made of rock. Arthur C. Clarke fans, stand down. It’s no monolith, but it is probably kinda heavy.

Paul Byrne, a professor in Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, told Inverse in December, “the object in that image is almost definitely, categorically, absolutely a boulder.”

Now, he clarifies his previous prediction in light of the new discovery: “It is clearly a large boulder the size of a small boulder. And thus, by definition, it *is* a boulder.”

When asked if a “small boulder” is, in fact, “a rock,” Byrne responded:

“There is actually a definition of a boulder, according to something called the Udden–Wentworth scale, which says a boulder is a chunk of rock greater than 256 mm in diameter. So I think our lunar friend counts.”

It could still be a hut for very small space rodents, maybe. CNSA

Boulder it is.

Andrew Jones, a journalist who covers the Chinese space industry, describes it as “so underwhelming it's brilliant” on Twitter.

What’s next — Now they know what the “mystery hut” really is, the Yutu-2 team has named the boulder “Jade Rabbit.”

Yutu-2 is the first rover to explore the far side (or “dark” side) of the Moon. This is the side of the Moon which always faces away from Earth, though “dark” is a misnomer as it spends a good chunk of the Moon’s orbital period in the Sun’s direct light.

China launched Yutu-2 in December 2018, and it arrived on the surface in January 2019. Since its arrival, it has discovered a strange “gel” that also ended up being rocks, and drove across light material compared in appearance to snow that was just really weathered regolith (gravel).

Jade Rabbit rock rocks. CNSA

This is not the first time an odd space rock or formation has had a disappointing conclusion. Another weird lunar anomaly? Ancient “concentration of dense oxides” leftover from volcanic material, which is probably a lot of rocks.

And then take Mars. There’s the Mars meteorite that could hold fossilized life but is perhaps just weird geology. There’s the fringe “mushroom on Mars” idea, too. Further out in space there is Boyajian’s Star, the one we thought could be alien megastructures. Probably ice or rocks.

Perhaps instead of “it’s never aliens” we should say “it’s always rocks.” Or boulders.

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