A new type of rock has been found on the surface of the Moon, finds a study published in Nature Communications this week. The Chinese Chang'e-3 unmanned mission is the first to land on the Moon since the Apollo and Luna missions around 40 years ago, and the location of the lander has given access to a volcanic surface that up to now had not been analysed in detail.
Although measurements taken by lunar orbiters have suggested a range of volcanic rock types are present on the Moon’s surface, until recently it has been impossible to sample them directly. In 2013, the Yutu rover, or ‘Jade Rabbit’, was able to traverse the lunar surface around the Zi Wei crater in the Imbrium Basin and take measurements. Zongcheng Ling and colleagues present the first findings from the instruments on-board the rover. They report that this relatively young region of the Moon, formed around 2.96 billion years ago, has unique mineralogical characteristics, suggesting a new type of basaltic rock that has not been sampled by previous missions or observed in lunar meteorites.
The site for the Chang’e-3 lander was specifically chosen to be on a relatively young lava flow and near a crater where the impact would have excavated fresh material onto the surface. These are pioneering observations of a region of the lunar landscape not previously explored, and help advance knowledge of some of the youngest volcanism on the Moon.