On Tuesday, December 1stst, at 10:11 EST (07:00 PST) Chang’e-5 a sample spacecraft returned safely to the Moon. This mission is the latest in a lunar exploration program in China, which prepares to create a lunar exit and crew mission by the 2030s. The day after he landed, a Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) passed the site and found an image of the landlord.
The images above and below were captured by the LRO Angle Wide Camera and show the Chang’e-5 place a lander in a white box – the top is represented by a white dot. These showcase the Oceanus Procellarum (“Ocean of Storms”), a large lunar mare located at the western edge of the Moon. Due to its size, measuring 2,500 km (1,600 mi) from north to south, this is the only floor named “Oceanus. ”
Like all lunar maria, Oceanus Procellarum is a basalt field formed when full-wet but thick lava currents covered the area. This is similar to flood basalts on Earth, where lava flows expand to be almost as smooth as they harden, but retain features that are indicative of their volcanic origin. But unlike lava flows that are studied on Earth, Oceanus Procellarum was formed between 1 and 2 billion years ago.
Moreover, these samples could be billions of years younger than anything collected by Apollo astronauts or Soviet Luna missions to date. So these could shed light on geological history and the interior of the moon. While the Moon is geologically inactive today, scientists know that the situation was different in the past. Not only were volcanoes active on the Moon, but it is also believed to have had a lunar magnetic field.
In the image above, which covers an area measuring 61 km (38 mi) in diameter, a channel feature can be seen. This corresponds to a narrow, winding channel (aka. Rille), formed by a volcanic eruption more than a billion years ago. The clear area to the south is a mass of old soil that extends through the basalt layer of the floor.
In the second annotated image (just above), the focus is on a much smaller area measuring 1210 m (3970 ft) in diameter. In this image, the filters that form a triangle shape around the surface are more visible. Again, the location of the surface is marked with a white box while the surface is a white dot in the center.
On December 16, the Chang’e-5 lander returned his samples to Earth through a 300 kg (~ 660 lbs) return capsule. This capsule, containing 2 kg (4.4 lbs) of lunar material drilled and scoured, landed in Inner Mongolia at 12:59 PM EST (09:59 AM PST). The revival of this sample marks the end of the Chang’e-5 mission and Phase III of the Chinese Lunar Study Program.
Phase IV, which will include lunar construction, is expected to begin in 2023-2024 when the Chang’e-6 and Chang’e-7 missions. If all goes well, China plans to send its first crew mission to the lunar south pole region by the 2030s.
Further reading: LROC, SpaceNews