China is preparing to launch an unmanned spacecraft to bring back lunar rocks, the first attempt by any nation to retrieve samples from the moon in four decades.

  • The Chang’e-5 probe, named after the mythical Chinese moon goddess, aims to shovel up lunar rocks and soil to help scientists learn about the moon’s origins, formation and volcanic activity on its surface.
  • The goal of the mission is to land in the Mons Rumker region of the moon, where it will operate for one lunar day, which is two weeks long.
  • It will collect 2 kg of surface material from a previously unexplored area known as Oceanus Procellarum — or “Ocean of Storms” — which consist of vast lava plain.
  • The original mission, planned for 2017, was delayed due to an engine failure in China’s Long March 5 launch rocket.
  • If successful, China will be only the third country to have retrieved samples from the moon, following the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.

Significance of the mission

  • As per the Lunar and Planetary Institute, rocks found on the Moon are older than any that have been found on Earth and therefore they are valuable in providing information about the Earth and the Moon’s shared history.
  • Lunar samples can help to unravel some important questions in lunar science and astronomy, including the Moon’s age, its formation, the similarities and differences between the Earth and the Moon’s geologic features.
  • For instance, the shape, size, arrangement and composition of individual grains and crystals in a rock can tell scientists about its history, while the radioactive clock can tell them the rock’s age.
  • Further, tiny cracks in rocks can tell them about the radiation history of the Sun in the last 100,000 years.

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