The Chinese rover Yutu has discovered a new kind of moon rock. Yutu, the first rover to land on our natural satellite since the 70s (it’s the first since the 70s if the orbiters making crash landings are not taken into account), is currently busy exploring a part of the moon reshaped relatively recently by volcanic activities.
At just below 3 billion years old, these areas are slightly less ancient and are home to a rock type that was not present in the samples brought to Earth by the previous missions.
It’s believed that the moon was formed when a planet (at times the planet is referred to as Theia) as big as Mars collided with a newly formed Earth around 4.5 billion years back. This collision gave birth to a hot muddle of molten rock. After almost 500 million years of this collision, heat generated by the decayed radioactive materials within the moon led to melting inside its mantle and caused volcanic eruptions.
Basalts sampled from the surface of the moon, to date, were found to have either very high or very low titanium content. However, investigations of the young rocks spotted by the Chinese rover Yutu revealed basalts containing titanium in medium quantity and iron in high quantity. This finding it important as the composition and order of minerals in basalts can help scientists in understanding the source of magma creating them.
Bradley L. Jolliff, a Washington University scientist who worked together with a team of Chinese scientists for analyzing the data collected by the Yutu, said that the variable distribution of titanium on the surface of the moon indicates that the interior of the satellite was never homogenized. He added that he and his team have not yet figured out how exactly this happened. According to him, there were possibly massive impacts during the Moon’s magma ocean stage, which resulted in disruption of mantle formation.
Other than revealing the surprising diversity of the moon’s surface, the facts put forward by this new study might help scientists in presenting a better performance when studying the surface from Rovers. Jolliff stated that scientists now have access to a well-analyzed sample from a critical location on the moon, which will play the role of “ground truth” for their remote sensing.