China discovers unknown mineral on the moon, names it Changesite-(Y)
Helium-3 also draws excitement as future fusion energy source
China announced last Friday it discovered a hitherto unknown mineral in samples returned from the Moon.
The mineral, dubbed "Changesite-(Y)", was named after Chang’e – a moon goddess in Chinese mythology and the namesake of the Chang’e-5 mission that retrieved a sample of lunar dust in 2020.
China's sample clocked in at 1.73kg (3.8lbs). It was collected from both the surface of the Moon and about 6.5 meters beneath the surface in an area thought to have been the site of volcanic activity. The loot was shared among 33 research organizations.
A joint announcement from the China National Space Administration (CNSA) and the China Atomic Energy Authority (CAEA) described the samples as "a phosphate mineral in the form of columnar crystals found in lunar basalt particles."
The crystal structure was separated and examined through x-ray diffraction by researchers at the Beijing Research Institute of Uranium Geology, a subsidiary of the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC). They found a single crystal particle among the 140,000 lunar sample particles with a diameter of about 10 microns.
The metaphorical needle in a haystack was a crystal that, according to state sponsored media, was one-tenth the size of a human hair. If you prefer The Register unit standards, that's one millionth of a linguine.
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Unobserved minerals have previously been found on the Moon by both the United States and Russia. Changesite–(Y) is the sixth discovered lunar mineral, and has received approval from the organization that oversees such discoveries – the International Mineralogical Association's Commission on New Minerals, Nomenclature and Classification. Not, as you may have thought, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
China's sample has also been measured for concentration of Helium-3.
Finding Helium-3 on the Moon is not ground-breaking news: it's long been known to exist on Luna's surface in greater abundance than down here on Earth where it is extremely rare. But what seems to excite the researchers is assessing its potential as a future fusion energy source – it's capable of releasing large amounts of energy without making the surrounding material radioactive.
The highly valuable gas is also extremely useful for cooling quantum machines.
CNSA and CAEA said it "adhered to the concept of peaceful use of space and peaceful use of nuclear energy," as it continued to work on integrating the two technologies.
The two orgs also declared that "as the competent government departments in the field of aerospace and nuclear in China" the duo were making simultaneous contributions to scientific discoveries and international cooperation.
But how international cooperation plays out remains to be seen in an increasingly tense geopolitical climate. The UK's Imperial College has reportedly decided to shut down two Chinese-sponsored aerospace research centers after warnings they could unintentionally aid the Chinese military.
Organizations like MI5 and the FBI have frequently issued warnings of Chinese espionage and the CCP's strong long game.