A team of esteemed scientists has collaborated to create a comprehensive image that unveils the intricate layers lying beneath the surface of the moon’s far side. This remarkable achievement has been made possible by harnessing the invaluable data collected by China’s Yutu 2 rover, a pivotal component of the Chang’e 4 mission.
In a historic milestone on January 2, 2019, the Chang’e 4 lander and rover achieved an unprecedented feat by accomplishing a flawless landing on the moon’s far side, a region perpetually concealed from the direct view of Earth. Since that momentous touch down, the solar-powered Yutu 2 rover has been steadfastly traversing the floor of the Von Kármán Crater, an expansive expanse spanning 115 miles (186 kilometers). Equipped with a sophisticated two-channel ground penetrating radar (GPR), the rover has been instrumental in providing invaluable insights into the moon’s enigmatic subsurface layers.
The innovative GPR operates by emitting radio waves into the lunar terrain and adeptly capturing the subsequent echoes that reverberate back. The meticulous analysis of these echoes empowers scientists to meticulously construct a meticulously detailed image of the moon’s concealed internal structure, thereby illuminating its intricate geological history.
In a prior breakthrough, the GPR’s scan, reaching a depth of 130 feet (40 meters), unveiled distinct and discernible layers of rock debris and soil residing beneath the lunar surface. However, the latest research endeavor, chronicled in a meticulously compiled paper published in the esteemed Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets on August 7, has unearthed an array of even more tantalizing discoveries.
By adroitly harnessing the capabilities of the GPR’s lower-frequency channel, researchers have adeptly detected and documented multiple stratified layers residing within the uppermost 1,000 feet (300 meters) beneath the moon’s surface. These newly revealed layers are hypothesized to be emblematic of ancient basaltic eruptions that transpired eons ago, providing an intriguing window into the moon’s geological evolution. Spearheading this groundbreaking study is the accomplished Jianqing Feng from the esteemed Planetary Science Institute located in Tucson, Arizona. This collaborative effort significantly contributes to our nuanced understanding of the moon’s intricate composition and complex history.
This cooperative scientific endeavor has unveiled the existence of a constellation of five prominent layers, with a considerable proportion of at least three of these strata predominantly constituted of basalt. The insights garnered from this study also intriguingly suggest that the layers situated closer to the moon’s surface exhibit relatively thinner characteristics in comparison to those located at greater depths. This key observation has led scientists to postulate that the gradual dissipation of the moon’s internal thermal energy, the very force fueling its volcanic activities, has subsequently translated into diminishing volcanic flows over time.
The crucial data underpinning this research endeavor was meticulously compiled and collected between January 2019 and January 2022. During this temporal span, the indefatigable Yutu 2 rover embarked on an expansive journey, covering an impressive distance of approximately 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) across the enigmatic lunar landscape. This comprehensive data acquisition has been instrumental in enriching our comprehension of the moon’s concealed mysteries.
China’s laudable lunar program, expertly spearheaded by the renowned Chang’e missions, has made commendable strides in advancing lunar exploration. While official updates on the Chang’e 4 mission may have become less frequent, the enduring operational vitality of the rover and lander was evident as they celebrated the fourth anniversary of their historic landing in January, serving as a testament to their sustained functionality.
Even beyond official updates, the presence and activities of the Yutu 2 rover have been corroborated through various means. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has consistently captured compelling imagery of the rover’s tracks and movements on the moon’s far side. Additionally, the discerning efforts of amateur spacecraft-tracking enthusiasts have successfully detected and documented signals originating from Queqiao, a strategically positioned relay satellite orbiting beyond the moon. This satellite plays a pivotal role in facilitating seamless communication between Earth and the spacecraft located on the lunar far side.
As the journey of lunar exploration continues to captivate our imagination, China is poised to embark on a pioneering mission. In the imminent year, the eagerly anticipated Chang’e 6 mission is set to undertake the unprecedented task of collecting samples from the moon’s far side. This audacious endeavor promises to provide groundbreaking insights into the moon’s enigmatic terrain, thereby deepening our understanding of this celestial neighbor that has long fascinated humanity.