We finally have clear photos of the mysterious substance that China found on the far side of the Moon, which it described as “gel-like” in August.
Imaged by the nation’s rover, Yutu 2, the glittering nature of the material instead suggests it is likely glass created by an impact, according to lunar scientists.
The odd material was discovered in July by Yutu 2, which has traveled hundreds of meters across the lunar terrain since it was delivered to the Moon by the Chang’e-4 lander in January. Chang’e-4 is the first surface mission in history to explore the far side of the Moon.
The drive team decided to stall the trip for a while so that the rover could get a closer look at the “gelatinous” substance, as it was described by China’s Lunar Exploration Program.
A clearer image of the substance was shared on October 8 by Our Space, a government-sanctioned science publication on the social media site Weibo. It was spotted by Andrew Jones of Space.com, who has been reporting on the weird substance for months.
Dan Moriarty, a geologist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, enhanced the images into different versions by adjusting brightness, contrast, and other customizable features.
In an email, Moriarty said that there are limitations to this technique because the images might be affected by JPEG compression and the lack of any scale bar.
Even so, the enhanced pictures appear to corroborate previous suspicions that the material could be glass forged by meteorites crashing into the lunar surface, which would explain why it is the middle of a crater. It could also potentially be basaltic rock that originated from a time when the Moon was more volcanically active.
"The shape of the fragments appears fairly similar to other materials in the area,” Moriarty told Space.com. “What this tells us is that this material has a similar history as the surrounding material. It was broken up and fractured by impacts on the lunar surface, just like the surrounding soil.”
Glassy residue, both from meteorite impacts and ancient volcanism, is presumed to be relatively common on the Moon. For instance, a patch of “orange soil” from a volcanic eruption that occurred more than three billion years ago was found by the last two astronauts to walk on the Moon: Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt of Apollo 17.
Both Yutu 2 and its mothership Chang’e-4 are currently waking up after about two weeks of shutdown time to escape the cold temperatures of the lunar night. Hopefully, that means the rover will send back more pictures and data of its otherworldly surroundings soon.