China’s “Chang’e 5” space probe collects rock samples

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had received a scientific to-do list for their moon landing in the course of the Apollo 11 mission, the chronological order of which corresponded to the priority of the respective tasks. The first thing to do on the lunar surface was to collect about a kilogram of lunar rock that was supposed to be stowed in Armstrong’s suit and that would have been transported back to earth even if the field was abandoned prematurely. It was hoped that these rock samples would provide the greatest scientific benefit from the moon landing. Ultimately, there was even enough time for Aldrin and Armstrong to assemble a total of around 20 kilograms of lunar material from the Mare Tranquillitatis. The sample laid the foundation for a series of groundbreaking new discoveries about the earth’s satellite and its history.

Another five Apollo missions and three Soviet Luna missions brought much more rock from the moon up to 1976, around 400 kilograms of which exist on earth today. If you want to do research on NASA samples, you have to write a scientific application and, if successful, get access to tiny amounts of the precious material. Even today these samples continue to generate new insights into the nature of our earthly companion and the history of the solar system.

The moonstones have preserved their history in a unique way. Unlike on Earth, no recent geological activity and – due to the lack of a lunar atmosphere – no weathering has been able to destroy this information in the past billions of years: for example, its origin in the early magma ocean of the moon or its chemical change due to massive meteorite impacts. Surface rubble, the regolith, also bears traces of its interaction with radiation and particles that come from the sun and from more distant regions of the cosmos. It is littered with holes made by tiny meteorites that never reach our earth due to their atmosphere.

A puzzle piece to understand the history of the moon

Moonstone comes in many different varieties: basaltic volcanic rock, which once crystallized from a hot magma liquid and provides information on the chemical composition of the interior of the moon, compounds of minerals such as feldspar, spinel or olivine, and glass beads formed in meteorite impacts under high temperatures and pressure Debris of existing breccia rock or old anorthosite, which makes up a large part of the crust of the highland regions. Each type of rock has its own story and in turn provides a piece of the puzzle for understanding the history of the moon.


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