Scientists identify mysterious gel-like substance found on moon

Chinese scientists explain the mystery of the dark green goo found on the moon in 2019, which they say is a glassy mix of minerals melted together by an asteroid impact

  • Researchers in China analyzed a mysterious gel-like substance from the moon
  • Originally found in 2019, it turns out to be a melted mixture of minerals
  • The original description as ‘gel-like’ was probably due to a mistranslation 

Chinese scientists have identified the chemical makeup and likely origin of a mysterious gel-like substance found on the moon in 2019.

The dark green material was first observed by China’s Yutu-2 rover while exploring terrain near the Von Kármán crater, a famous impact site on the far side of the moon that measures around 110 miles in diameter.

New analysis by a group of researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences confirms that the substance wasn’t actually a gel but a hard and glassy mineral compound that had been melted and reformed at high heat by an ancient asteroid impact.

Chinese scientists studied the makeup of a mysterious gel-like substance found on the moon in 2019 and discovered it was actually a mix of minerals that had melted and reformed in an ancient asteroid impact

The team identified it specifically as a form of breccia, a kind of rock formed by  mineral fragments that are ‘cemented’ together by some external force.

According to the team, the substance was ‘formed by impact-generated welding, cementing and agglutinating of lunar regolity and breccia.’

The substance initially caught the eye of scientists controlling the Yutu-2 rover because of how dissimilar it was to the surrounding soil at the Von Kármán crater, according to a report in Newsweek.

At the time it was widely described as dark green and ‘gel-like’ because of how it appeared through the rover camera, with glossy sheen that stood in sharp contrast to the dry lunar soil around it.

It’s likely the first wave of reports about the substance were due to a mistranslation from the original documents shared by the Chinese authorities.

The soil samples stood out because of their glossy sheen, but reports that it was actually a gel are now attributed to a mistranslation of the original reports from Chinese

The initial discovery was made by China’s Yutu-2 moon rover as it was investigating the Von Kármán crater on the far side of the moon

Some had suggested the substance might have come from volcanic activity, but the Chinese researchers later ruled that out as the moon hasn’t seen any active volcanos in over three billion years.

Instead, the team determined the substance was a mix of pagioclase, a whitish gray crystal, iron-magnesium silicate, olivine and pyroxene, all of which were melted and mixed together by the heat of an asteroid impact.

Scientists are still puzzled by how the substance ended up in the Von Kármán crater given how different it is from the surrounding soil.

The researchers suggest the likeliest explanation is that it was thrown across a significant distance by an especially intense impact, though where and when the impact occurred are still unknown. 

A TIMELINE OF HOW CHINA REACHED THE FAR SIDE OF THE MOON

Chang’e-4 launched from the Xichang satellite launch centre in Sichuan, south-west China at 6:30 GMT on December 7 

October 24 2007 – China launches Chang’e-1, an unmanned satellite, into space where it remains operational for more than a year. 

October 1 2010 – China launches Chang’e-2. This was part of the first phase of the Chinese moon programme. It was in a 100-km-high lunar orbit to gather data for the upcoming Chang’e-3 mission. 

September 29, 2011 – China launched Tiangong 1. 

September 15 2013 – A second space lab, Tiangong 2, is launched. 

December 1 2013 – Chang’e-3 launched.  

December 14 2013 – Chang’e-3, a 2,600 lb (1,200 kg) lunar probe landed on the near side of the moon successfully. It became the first object to soft-land on the Moon since Luna 24 in 1976. 

April 1 2018 – Tiangong-1 crashed into Earth at 17,000 mph and lands in the ocean off the coast if Tahiti. 

May 20 2018 – China launched a relay satellite named Queqiao which is stationed in operational orbit about 40,000 miles beyond the moon. This is designed to enable Chang’e-4 to communicate wit engineers back on Earth. 

The Chang’e-4 lunar rover is lifted into space from the Xichang launch centre in Xichang in China’s southwestern Sichuan province on December 7

December 7 2018 – Chinese space agency announces it has launched the Chang’e-4 probe into space. 

December 12 2018 –  Retrorockets on the probe fired to stabilise the spacecraft and slow it down. 

December 31 2018 –   The probe prepared for the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon. 

Estimated for 2020 – Tiangong 3,a follow-up mission to the Tiangong-2 

Before 2033 – China plans for its first uncrewed Mars exploration program.

2040 – 2060 – The Asian superpower is planning a crewed mission to Mars. 

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