Chinese mission leads to major lunar discovery

Lazy eyes listen


According to a new study of lunar soil samples, the Moon may contain billions of tonnes of water trapped inside tiny glass spheres formed when asteroids collide with its surface. The samples were collected during China’s Chang’e-5 robotic exploration mission in 2020.

A team of scientists claimed to have discovered water inside impact glass beads collected by the Chang’e-5 lander from lunar soil in a study published on Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The tiny glass beads, which range in size from 50 micrometres to one millimetre, are typically formed when an asteroid or comet collides with the Moon, ejecting molten particles that cool and become part of the moonscape.

The beads, according to the researchers, fill with water when they are hit by solar winds, which carry hydrogen and oxygen from the sun across space.

“The reaction of solar hydrogen with oxygen present at the surface of the lunar glass beads produces solar wind-derived water,” planetary scientist Sen Hu explained.

The researchers also investigated water diffusion processes, estimating that the beads could be refilled with water every few years, implying “an efficient water recharge mechanism that could sustain the lunar surface water cycle.”

The beads could hold up to 270 billion tonnes of water, according to the scientists.

Mahesh Anand, an Open University professor of planetary science and exploration, described the discovery as “one of the most exciting discoveries we’ve made,” adding that it raises “the potential for exploring the Moon in a sustainable manner” higher than ever before.

The Chang’e-5, China’s fifth lunar exploration mission, landed on the Moon in December 2020 and collected nearly 2kg of lunar samples before returning safely to Earth the following month.

China has an ambitious lunar programme, with the goal of landing on the Moon before 2030. It also plans to establish the International Lunar Research Station with Russia, which is expected to be operational by 2035.

In January, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson declared that the world had entered a “space race,” recognising China’s “enormous success and advances” in its space programme.