China’s unmanned Yutu rover, also called Jade Rabbit, has found an entirely new basaltic rock on the moon. The lunar lander was launched in 2013. It has been exploring an ancient flow of volcanic lava in the Mare Imbrium on the moon. The new material is unlike anything collected by the American and Soviet missions during the 1960s and 1970s. The discovery was published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.

China's Yutu Rover Finds A New Kind Of Basaltic Moon Rock

This rock is intermediate in titanium

China’s unmanned mission Chang’e-3 put down the Yutu rover on a geologically young lava flow that was formed about 3 billion years ago. The basaltic rock identified by the rover had “unique compositional characteristics.” The study is expected to throw new light on the origins of the Earth’s nearest neighbor. It was a surprise for planetary scientists and geochemists.

Basalts collected by the US and Soviet missions were either high or low in titanium. But the new substance is intermediate in titanium and very rich in iron oxide. Bradley Joliff of the Washington University, the only American in the Chinese team, told the Guardian that the diversity suggests the moon’s upper mantle is far less uniform in composition than our planet. Researchers can see how the moon’s volcanism changed over time by correlating chemistry with age.

Yutu rover may help reveal the composition of the moon’s interior

The moon is believed to have formed when a Mars-sized body called Theia crashed into Earth early in the history of the solar system. The debris and rocks from the collision coalesced and cooled to form the moon. But radioactive elements in the interior heated up the rock under the crust for about 500 million years. As a result, volcanic lava slurped into impact craters to form the “seas” or maria.

Since volcanic activity brings minerals from the center to the surface of a planetary body, understanding the volcanic rocks could help researchers determine the lunar composition. Minerals in molten rock usually crystallize at different temperatures. So, the surface rock may offer clues about the deep interior of the moon.