China’s Chang’e-4 mission, the first to land on the far side of the moon, is shedding light on one of the moon’s biggest mysteries, according to a new study.
The study detailing its findings was published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, adding impact craters are how researchers can learn more about the moon’s evolution and how it formed, reports CNN.
Chang’e-4 landed in the Von Karman crater on January 3. Then, it deployed the Yutu-2 rover.
The rover’s purpose was to explore the South Pole-Aitken basin, the oldest and largest crater on the far side of the moon, which is 1,553 miles across.
Data samples collected by the rover on the basin floor indicated traces of olivine. Samples from deeper impacts within the basin revealed more olivine. Because basalt contains both, researchers theorised that the mantle could contain olivine and pyroxene equally, rather than being dominated by one.
The rover will need to explore more of its landing site to understand the mantle’s composition, but the first mission to the far side of the moon is already gathering crucial data.
Next, Yutu-2 will sample more material from the floor of the crater to determine its origin, and researchers are looking at the possibility of returning samples to Earth.
“Understanding the composition of the lunar mantel is critical for testing whether a magma ocean ever existed, as postulated,” said Li Chunlai, study author and professor of the National Astronomical Observatories of Chinese Academy of Sciences, said in a statement.
“It also helps advance our understanding of the thermal and magmatic evolution of the moon.”