On Tuesday, December 1, at 10:11 am EST (7:00 am PST), the Chang & # 39; e-5 spacecraft landed safely on the moon with safe sample return. This mission is the latest in China's lunar exploration program, paving the way for the creation of a lunar outpost and crewed mission by 2030. The day after landing, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) crossed the area and took a picture of the lander.
The images above and below were taken with the LRO's wide-angle camera and show the position of the Chang & # 39; e-5 lander in a white box – the lander is represented by a white dot. These show the Oceanus Procellarum ("Ocean of Storms"), a large moon mare on the western edge of the near side of the moon. Due to its size of 2,500 km from north to south, it is the only mare called "Oceanus".
The Chang & # 39; e-5 lander as seen by the LRO's wide-angle camera. Photo credit: NASA / GSFC / ASU
Like all Mondmaria, Oceanus procellarum is a basalt plain that was formed when highly fluid but thick lava flows covered the region. This is similar to the flood basalts on Earth, where the lava flows expand almost shallowly as they solidify, but retain features that suggest their volcanic origin. Unlike lava flows that are studied on Earth, Oceanus procellarum was formed 1 to 2 billion years ago.
In addition, these samples could be billions of years younger than anything previously collected by Apollo astronauts or Soviet Luna missions. These could therefore shed light on the geological history and interior of the moon. While the moon is geologically inactive today, scientists know that the situation was different in the past. Not only did the moon have active volcanoes, but it was also believed to have a lunar magnetic field.
In the image above, which covers an area 61 km in diameter, a channel feature is visible. This corresponds to a winding narrow channel (also known as a groove) formed by a volcanic eruption more than a billion years ago. The light area in the south is a mass of older terrain that protrudes through the mare's basalt layer.
Annotated image of the Chang & # 39; e-5 lander, captured by the LRO's wide-angle camera. Photo credit: NASA / GSFC / ASU
In the second annotated image (just above), the focus is on a much smaller area, 1210 m (3970 ft) in diameter. In this image, the craters that form a triangular formation around the lander are more visible. Again, the position of the lander is indicated by a white box, while the lander is a white dot in the middle.
On December 16, the Chang & # 39; e-5 lander brought its samples back to Earth via a 300 kg return capsule. This capsule, which contained 2 kg of drilled and scooped lunar material, landed in Inner Mongolia at 12:59 p.m. EST (9:59 a.m. PST). The restoration of this sample marks the end of the Chang & # 39; e-5 mission and Phase III of the Chinese lunar exploration program.
Phase IV, in which a lunar outpost will be established, is expected to begin in 2023-2024 with the launch of the Chang & # 39; e-6 and Chang & # 39; e-7 missions. If all goes well, China plans to send its first crewed mission to the southern polar region of the moon by 2030.
Further reading: LROC, SpaceNews