Chang'e 5's first batch of lunar samples is analyzed in China

In 2020, the Chang’e 5 mission from China collected samples of the Moon and brought 1.7 kg of material to Earth, which are the first samples of our natural satellite we’ve received since 724. Now, a part of the samples obtained was distributed among 724 Chinese institutions, which are already studying them to better understand the past of the Moon and even verify the occurrence and abundance of isotopes that can be used as an energy source for nuclear fusion. In addition, researchers can now register to study the next batch.

  • Chang’e 5 is hurled to the Moon after transporting samples to orbiter
  • Sample data collected by the Chang’e 5 mission is available online
  • Learn the trajectory from the Chang’e missions, which took China to the Moon

The material has soil grains and fragments of basalt and glass . The Beijing Research Institute of Uranium Geology is currently looking for helium-3 in a 50 g sample of lunar rocks collected. It is an isotope that is quite rare on Earth, but may be more abundant on the Moon due to the action of the solar wind, a flow of charged particles coming from the Sun. helium-3 can, in the future, be used as fuel in nuclear power plants.

The capsule with the samples, recovered in the interior of Mongolia (Image: Reproduction/Our Space/ Wang Jiangbo)

For this, the institute is using equipment that determines the amount of helium-3 present in the sample, while other devices heat the material to 1. ºC. “The main objective of the study is to determine the helium-3 content in the lunar soil, the extraction parameters that indicate at what temperature the helium can be extracted and how the isotope is attached to the soil”, explained Huang Zhixin, a researcher at the institute. In addition, they are also looking for uranium, a radioactive element that may be present in the collected material.

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Ian Crawford, science teacher and astrobiology at the University of London, views the idea with caution. For him, it would take huge amounts of investment and infrastructure to mine, extract and transport lunar helium-3, so Earth’s renewable energy sources would be preferable alternatives — but even so, he points out that there is, in fact, scientific value in analyze compound concentrations in samples.

In addition, institutions across the country are analyzing the material to try to better understand the Moon’s past. Li Xianhua, professor at the Institute of Geology and Geophysics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (IGGCAS) , is studying the isotopic geochemical characteristics of the samples to determine their age and, who knows, to confirm the occurrence of volcanism in some regions there. “The Moon’s records are pretty old, so studying its evolution can complement the Earth’s evolutionary history,” he told state broadcaster CCTV.


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