The Yutu moon rover has uncovered evidence of at least nine distinct layers of rock underneath its wheels, which suggests that the area has been more geologically active than predicted over the course of the past 3.3 billion years, writes Mike Wall of Space.com.
Distinct layers of rock discovered at landing site
“Two things are most interesting,” said lead study author Long Xiao, a researcher at the China University of Geoscienes in Wuhan. “One is [that] more volcanic events have been defined in the late volcanism history of the moon,” he said.
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“Another is the lunar mare [volcanic plain] area is not only composed of basaltic lavas, but also explosive eruption-formed pyroclastic rocks,” Xiao continued. “The latter finding may shed light on … the volatile contents in the lunar mantle.”
The Yutu rover is part of China’s Chang’e 3 moon mission. Yutu, whose name means jade rabbit, was delivered to the moon on December 14 2013 along with a stationary lander. The event marked the first soft touchdown on the moon since 1976, when the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission landed on the moon’s surface.
Yutu gathers new data on lunar composition
The rover zigzagged its way across 114 meters of the lunar surface, before its progress was halted by a glitch in January 2014. Yutu is equipped with cameras and 3 main scientific instruments: the Lunar Penetrating Radar (LPR), the Visible Near-Infrared Spectrometer (VNIS) and the Active Particle-Induced X-ray Spectrometer (APXS).
The LPR is capable of probing around 400 meters below the moon’s surface, which enabled scientists to work out a detailed picture of the composition of the area near to the Chang’e 3 landing site. The spacecraft landed just 50 meters away from a 450-meter-wide crater known as C1, which was caused by a cosmic impact between 80 million and 27 million years ago.
The observations suggest that the moon’s composition in this area is very different from the landing sites of NASA’s Apollo missions and the Soviet Luna program. Although Yutu is no longer sending back data to Earth, there remains much to be learned from its mission, says Xiao.
“Unfortunately, Yutu encountered mechanical problems and has ended its mission,” he said. “No more data will come. However, our report only provides the scientific results based on imagery and radar data. More results from NIS and APXS for composition study will come out soon.”