Lunar rocks brought to Earth by China's Chang'e 5 show Moon's volcanoes were recently* active

* Just a couple of billion years

The Moon remained volcanically active much later than previously thought, judging from fragments of rocks dating back two billion years that were collected by China's Chang’e 5 spacecraft.

The Middle Kingdom's space agency obtained about 1.72 kilograms (3.8 pounds) of lunar material from its probe that returned to Earth from the Moon in December. These samples gave scientists their first chance to get their hands on fresh Moon material in the 40 years since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 mission brought 170 grams (six ounces) of regolith to our home world in 1976.

The 47 shards of basalt rocks retrieved by Chang'e 5 were estimated to be around two billion years old using radiometric dating techniques. The relatively young age means that the Moon was still volcanically active up to 900 million years later than previous estimates, according to a team of researchers led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

"This is the youngest crystallization age ever reported for lunar basaltic rocks by radiometric measurement, extending the range of radio isotopic ages of lunar basalt by 800 to 900 million years," said Chunlai Li, lead researcher for a paper published on Tuesday in Nature and a professor at National Astronomical Observatories at CAS.


Hot stuff, back in the day ... A basalt chunk collected by the Chang'e 5 spacecraft. Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences. Click to enlarge

Basalt is an igneous rock leftover when lava cools and hardens. The latest lunar samples indicate molten rock still flowed on the Moon two billion years ago. Scientists have a spotty understanding of the Moon's geologic history.

Previous sample return missions collected lunar material that were dated using crater-counting chronology – a less accurate method that involves estimating age by looking at the number and depth of crater impact events at the sample site.

"Apollo and Luna samples provided an initial database for ages ranging from 4 to 3.1 billion years ago, as well as those younger than one billion years ago," said Li.

"The new age of 2.03 billion years ago obtained for the [Chang'e 5] basalts resides squarely in the center of this large gap, fulfilling the long-sought-after goal to bridge the unanchored middle portion of the lunar crater-counting chronology and improving this critical tool for dating unsampled surfaces on the Moon, as well as for translating the lunar crater-counting chronology to other planetary bodies."

The Chang'e 5 samples were collected from Oceanus Procellarum, a lunar mare of basalt covering over ten per cent of the Moon's surface. Unlike other retrieved basaltic rocks, these latest samples don't have the same levels of potassium, phosphorus, and rare earth elements – a composition known as KREEP – and scientists aren't sure why.

"The KREEP-like components are related to how these youngest magmas originated," LI said.

"According to the previous theory, the KREEP-like components would provide heat to sustain the longevity of young magma. However, if this is not the case – as these results suggest – we should rethink the mechanisms underlying the longevity of the younger lunar magmatic activity." ®

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021