July 19, 2024

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China’s lunar probe returns to Earth with the world’s first samples from the far side of the moon

China’s lunar probe returns to Earth with the world’s first samples from the far side of the moon

In a world first, China’s Chang’e 6 probe returned to Earth on Tuesday carrying samples of rocks and soil from the little-explored far side of the moon.

The probe landed in the Inner Mongolia region of northern China on Tuesday afternoon, local time.

While previous American and Soviet missions collected samples from the near side of the Moon, the Chinese mission was the first to collect samples from the far side.

Chinese scientists expect the samples to include 2.5 million-year-old volcanic rocks and other materials that scientists hope will answer questions about the differences between the two sides of the moon.

The near side of the Moon is what is seen from Earth, while the far side always faces outer space. Missions to the far side are challenging and risky because mission controllers on Earth have no way to communicate directly with spacecraft in that region.

Instead, they must send signals via a satellite orbiting the moon. A Chinese satellite has been in lunar orbit since March and has transmitted information to spacecraft on the moon’s surface.

Scientists have long been fascinated by the parts of the Moon that are permanently moving away from our planet. The far side is known to contain mountains and meteorite craters, which contrasts with the relatively flat areas that can be seen on the near side. As such, samples taken from the far side could provide evidence of previously unstudied geological eras in the Moon’s history, which could help researchers understand how the solar system formed.

Scientists also hope that the material sample bears traces of meteorite strikes from the Moon’s past.

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The Chang’e 6 probe was launched into space on May 3 from the Wenchang Space Launch Site in the southern Chinese island province of Hainan.

About a month later, the spacecraft touched down in a massive, ancient impact crater known as the Antarctic-Aitken Basin. The mission took 53 days.

The China National Space Administration said that the recovered probe will be transported to Beijing, where samples will be stored and analyzed.

The samples are expected to answer one of the fundamental scientific questions in lunar science research: What geological activity is responsible for the differences between the two sides? Zhongyu Yu, a geoscientist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said in a statement issued in The Innovation, a journal published in partnership with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

In recent years, China has launched several successful missions to the Moon, major achievements for China’s rapidly advancing space programme. China has said it aims to land Chinese astronauts on the moon by 2030, and the country eventually plans to build a base on the moon.

These ambitions have stimulated competition with the United States, India and other countries with similar lunar ambitions.

China’s first lunar landing came in 2013, when the Chang’e 3 mission made it the third country after the United States and the former Soviet Union to successfully place a spacecraft on the moon’s surface.

In 2019, China became the first country to land a probe on the far side of the moon. The Chang’e 4 mission delivered a small rover called Yutu-2 to the surface to explore the Von Kármán Crater within the Moon’s South Pole-Aitken Basin.

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The following year, China returned to the near side of the Moon, landing the Chang’e 5 spacecraft on a volcanic plain known as Oceanus Procellarum. The probe recovered the samples there and returned them to Earth.