In an extraordinary breakthrough, China’s Chang’e-4 rover has enabled scientists to visualize 1,000 feet below the surface of the moon’s dark side for the first time. This exploration has unveiled a new perspective on lunar history that remained hidden for billions of years.
The Chang’e-4 spacecraft, the first to ever land on the far side of the moon since its landing in 2019, has been capturing impressive panoramas of impact craters and analyzing the moon’s mantle. This time, it went a step further.
Discovering the Lunar Layer Cake
Using Lunar Penetrating Radar (LPR), a technology equipped on the rover, scientists sent radio signals deep into the moon’s surface, listening to the echoes that bounced back. These echoes allowed Jianqing Feng, an astrogeological researcher at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, and his team to create an unprecedented map of the lunar subsurface.
The findings, published on August 7 in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, detail a fascinating subsurface structure. The upper 130 feet consists of multiple layers of dust, soil, and fragmented rocks. Hidden within these layers was an intriguing crater, created by a massive object’s impact on the moon. The debris surrounding the crater, suspected to be ejecta from the impact, was another significant discovery.
Ancient Lava Layers Reveal the Moon’s Past
Delving further down, researchers identified five separate layers of lunar lava that sprawled across the landscape billions of years ago. This discovery supports the theory of the moon’s formation 4.51 billion years ago and subsequent bombardment by space objects for about 200 million years.
Some impacts created cracks on the moon’s surface, allowing pockets of molten material known as magma to seep out in volcanic eruptions. The new data from Chang’e-4 show these volcanic activities gradually slowing down over time, with the layers of volcanic rock growing thinner closer to the surface. It seems the moon was “slowly cooling down and running out of steam in its later volcanic stage,” said Feng.
Is the Moon Geologically Dead?
While volcanic activity on the moon is believed to have ceased around 1 billion years ago, the possibility of magma still existing beneath the lunar surface hasn’t been ruled out. This means that the moon may not be entirely “geologically dead.”
Chang’e-4’s work on the moon is far from over. Feng and his team hope that future exploration will provide insights into different and unexpected geological formations. The hidden ‘structures’ below the dark side of the moon are a significant step in understanding the celestial body that has fascinated humans for centuries.
The ongoing mission of Chang’e-4 continues to expand our knowledge of the mysterious far side of the moon, bringing forth revelations that are both exciting and intriguing for the scientific community and those passionate about the unexplored facets of our universe.
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