In the year 2018, a remarkable event unfolded in the realm of space exploration. China’s Chang’e-4 spacecraft achieved a feat never before accomplished – it made a historic landing on the far side of the moon.
This monumental achievement marked the beginning of a captivating journey of discovery.
Over the years that followed, Chang’e-4, along with its trusty rover companion Yutu-2, embarked on a mission that not only captured breathtaking panoramas of impact craters but also delved into the secrets of the moon’s composition.
One of the standout features of this mission is the Lunar Penetrating Radar (LPR) equipped aboard the Yutu-2 rover.
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This advanced technology, akin to sending radio signals into the depths of the moon’s surface, was ingeniously designed.
Lead study author Jianqing Feng, a dedicated astrogeological researcher from the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, elucidates that the rover transmits these signals into the lunar surface, waiting attentively for the ensuing echoes.
These echoes, which are essentially radio waves that bounce off subterranean structures, are then harnessed to craft a comprehensive map of the moon’s subsurface.
The significance of these endeavors was laid bare in a publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets on August 7th.
The findings unveiled an extensive chronicle of lunar history that had long been veiled from human understanding. By peering into the first 1,000 feet (300 meters) of the moon’s outer layer, scientists were granted access to the secrets of billions of years of lunar evolution.
Central to this revelatory journey was the exploration of the uppermost layer of the moon’s surface using the Lunar Penetrating Radar.
Prior to this mission, a preliminary mapping of the top 130 feet (40 meters) of the lunar terrain had been accomplished in 2020. Yet, the pursuit of greater knowledge pushed the boundaries of exploration even further.
This new phase of investigation not only reaffirmed the presence of numerous layers of dust, soil, and fragmented rocks within the upper crust but also illuminated the existence of a concealed crater.
This crater, a remnant of a cosmic collision, was encircled by a debris field that bore testimony to the cataclysmic event. As if peering through the pages of history, the scientists discerned five distinct strata of lunar lava that had meandered across the lunar landscape eons ago.
The narrative of our moon’s inception is a tale intertwined with the origins of our solar system itself.
A staggering 4.51 billion years ago, a colossal impact event led to the formation of the moon. This event was sparked when a massive object, almost the size of Mars, collided with Earth, giving rise to the moon as we know it.
In the subsequent 200 million years, the moon was bombarded by a barrage of celestial bodies from the cosmos.
These impacts, at times, ruptured the moon’s surface. Similar to Earth, the moon’s mantle harbored pockets of molten material referred to as magma. These molten pockets gradually oozed out through newly created fissures, a result of volcanic activity triggered by the impacts.
Through the lens of Chang’e-4’s data, the gradual waning of this volcanic fervor across the epochs became evident. As the researchers meticulously examined the lunar layers, a remarkable pattern emerged.
The layers of volcanic rock grew progressively thinner as they approached the moon’s outermost layer. This phenomenon indicated a decline in the intensity of volcanic activity with the passage of time.
Feng eloquently explicates that the moon was akin to a cooling ember, its volcanic vigor diminishing over the ages. This gradual enfeeblement of energy marked a pivotal phase in the lunar narrative.
The once-vibrant lunar volcanism eventually reached its cessation approximately 1 billion years ago, signifying the end of a fiery era.
While traces of relatively youthful volcanic activity dating back to around 100 million years ago have been identified, the moon is widely regarded as “geologically inactive” at present.
Nevertheless, a tantalizing possibility lingers – concealed beneath the moon’s surface, magma might still dwell, waiting for its moment to surprise the world once again.
The saga of Chang’e-4’s lunar exploration is far from its conclusion. As the mission persists, Feng’s aspirations are directed toward unearthing unexpected geological marvels. The craft’s journey holds the promise of unraveling enigmas that have eluded human comprehension, adding yet another layer to our understanding of the cosmos.