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Look: China's Chang-E reveals ancient volcanoes on the Moon

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In December 2020, China’s Chang-E 5 lander brought the first Moon samples back to Earth in 40 years.

Now, researchers are analyzing the Moon samples, and getting a glimpse into its past full of volcanic eruptions and asteroid impacts.

In September 2021, researchers from China, the USA, and Germany presented an analysis of the Chang-E 5 samples at the annual Europlanet Science Congress.


Two kilograms of Moon materials were extracted from an area called Oceanus Procellarum, above and below the lunar surface.

It’s a region known for ancient volcanic activity, though it’s younger than other parts of the Moon.

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Mare basalts, materials that dominates dormant volcanic regions, made up the majority of the Chang-E 5 sample that was analyzed.

Dark lunar mare patches, which form from ancient volcanic eruptions, span the region where Chang-E 5 collected lunar rocks and dust.

Qian et al. 2021

But the researchers report that 10 percent of the sample they studied was not a mare basalt.

That means they were probably formed from other events on the Moon.


One peculiar find was a glassy, bead-like material that likely came from extinct volcanic vents located between 99 and 140 miles from the Chang-E landing site.

This material was also discovered in samples brought back by the Apollo mission.

The researchers say these beads likely hint at fountain-like volcanic explosions on the Moon that took place billions of years ago.

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The researchers also found some materials that likely originated from craters on other parts of the moon.

The Moon has taken numerous hits from asteroids — hence the presence of craters. Those explosions likely scattered materials across the satellite’s surface.

Qian et al. 2021

The dispersion of fragments indicates that materials could have been scattered from more than 800 miles away.

The Chang-E 5 samples provide more evidence that the Moon’s past was quite tumultuous — one that still leaves researchers with many questions.

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