May 16, 2019 08:02 AM EDT
This past Wednesday, scientists said they could be a little bit closer to solving the mystery behind the Moon's configuration, debuting the most detailed assessment yet of the far side of Earth's moon. In January, the Chinese spacecraft Chang'e-4 - named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology - became the first ever craft to land on the far side of the lunar surface.
With a likening to other figures in our Solar System, the Moon is believed to have gone through a phase during its formation when it was somewhat or completely comprised of molten rock. As it cooled, so the hypothesis goes, denser minerals descended to the lowermost part of the magma-ocean, while lighter materials amassed near the surface to form its mantle.
The team landed its probe in the Von Karmen Crater in the Aitken Basin at the Moon's South Pole - home to one of the largest impact craters known in the Solar System. They uncovered materials such as olivine and low-calcium pyroxene that are uncommon elsewhere on the surface.
Authors of the study, which was published in the journal Nature, suggest these materials were spewed from the Moon's upper mantle when it was struck by a meteor. "Our results support the lunar magma ocean theory, and demonstrate that the magma ocean hypothesis can be used to describe the early evolutionary history of the Moon," Chunlai Li, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told AFP.
Unlike the near side of the moon that constantly faces the Earth and offers many flat areas to touch down on, the far side is mountainous and rough. The United States, Russia, and China have all landed probes on the near side of the Moon, though neither NASA's Apollo missions nor the Soviet Union's Luna probes have ever brought back samples of the lunar mantle.
Stating in a comment piece, Patrick Pinet, from France's l'Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planetologie, said Li's findings were "thrilling". The results "might also affect our understanding of the formation and evolution of planetary interiors," Pinet wrote, saying that more research on the far side of the Moon was "of the utmost importance."
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