Last year, the China National Space Administration set out on a mission to bring chunks of the Moon back to Earth for the first time in decades. The mission was successful and researchers from Western Australia’s Curtin University were lucky enough to get their hands on some of the haul. What they found was the youngest moon rocks ever discovered.
China’s Chang’e 5 mission put a robotic lander on the Moon on December 1. The probe gathered up some precious samples and sent them up to a spacecraft waiting in lunar orbit. When the return capsule landed in Mongolia on December 17, it marked the first time in 44 years that a spacecraft had delivered lunar material to Earth.
Scientists were given the rare opportunity to study bits of our natural satellite up close.
Those lucky few included our very own researchers from Curtin University. The team from WA helped determine the age of the youngest rocks ever found on the Moon.
They say the basaltic volcanic rocks were about two billion years old – or one billion years younger than those previously found on the Moon.
“Previously, the youngest lunar basalt rocks collected as part of the Apollo and Luna missions, as well as lunar meteorites, were found to be older than about three billion years,” Professor Alexander Nemchin said.
What Next for These Young Moon Rocks?
Now that Curtin University has helped to determine the age of the youngest rocks ever found on the Moon, a team of global researchers are one step closer in their mission to refine the chronology of the entire Solar System.
Curtin hopes the new results would provide researchers with more calibration points for cratering chronology, enabling them to derive more accurate and higher resolution ages across many planetary surfaces.
“These results confirm what experts had long predicted based on remotely obtained images of the Moon and raise further questions as to why these young basalts exist,” Professor Gretchen Benedix added.
The task will now turn to finding a way to explain how this relatively recent heating of the Moon may have supported the formation of basaltic magmas (with temperatures exceeding 1000 degrees Celsius), and, ultimately, help researchers improve age dating of the entire Solar System.
The research was carried out in collaboration with experts from the International Lunar and Planetary Research Center of China, The Beijing SHRIMP Center, The Australian National University, WashingtonUniversity in St Louis, Notre Dame University and Brown University in the U.S..
Given we’re kind of in the middle of unprecedented times, Curtin University’s researchers had the gruelling task of determining the age of the lunar rock samples via remote sessions with the Beijing laboratory. I know you’re probably thinking Zoom, but the teams used large mass spectrometers that have helped revolutionise geology, too.