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Stuck Chinese Moon Rover Sends Back Lunar Insight

Two years ago, China sent the Chang’e-3 lander and its rover, Yutu, to the moon. There was some bad news early on: A failure caused the Yutu rover to become immobile shortly after arriving, but it was still able to inspect some nearby lunar rocks and send back information to Earth. This is the first time scientists have been able to do close-up inspection of moon rocks since the U.S. Apollo and Russian Luna programs ended in the 1970s, and the new observations have led to some surprising results. The report published today in Nature Communications says that based on concentrations of titanium in the young lava bed where Chang’e-3 is stationed, the moon’s mantle is much less uniform than scientists initially thought based on Apollo and Luna samples. The research teams suspect that large impacts may have disrupted the mantle’s formation between 3-4 billion years ago. Additionally, the high concentration of olivine (a silicate common in lava rocks), could mean that when the magma-ocean was crystallizing early in the moon’s formation, heavy minerals began to sink at the boundary of the crust and mantle, and the olivine, which formed earlier, began to rise, mixing the minerals into a hybrid.

Heather Goss is the Departments Editor at Air & Space.

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Chang'e, China, Moon, Yutu