[Dec. 267, 2023: JJ Shavit, The Brighter Side of News]
The moon, our closest celestial neighbor, has held humanity's attention and spurred our imaginations since the dawn of time. (CREDIT: Shutterstock)
The moon, our closest celestial neighbor, has held humanity's attention and spurred our imaginations since the dawn of time. A consistent muse in art, literature, and science, it has retained an aura of mystery for millennia. But as of this month, a veil has been lifted from the moon’s face, revealing its intricate geological tapestry billions of years in the making.
Thanks to the relentless efforts of China's space program, the once enigmatic history of the moon is now coming into clearer focus. The Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) embarked on an unprecedented mission in 2018 with the Chang’e-4 lander, the first spacecraft ever to touch down on the moon’s far side, often referred to as its "dark side."
In the years since its historic landing, Chang’e-4 has been diligently capturing vivid images of lunar impact craters while extracting invaluable mineral samples. These endeavors have illuminated the structures embedded within the top 1,000 feet of the moon’s surface.
Earlier this month, the world waited with bated breath as the Chang’e-4’s discoveries were unveiled. The findings, meticulously documented in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, provide a panoramic view into the geological layers that compose the top 130 feet (40m) of the lunar surface. Comprising dust, soil, and fractured rocks, these layers hold tales of cataclysmic events and evolving landscapes.
A significant revelation from the Chang’e-4's analysis was the identification of a crater, formed by the violent collision of a large object with the moon. This groundbreaking discovery was co-led by Jianqing Feng, a renowned astrogeological researcher at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona.
Venturing deeper, Feng and his team uncovered a series of five distinct layers of lunar lava. This ancient lava, spanning vast areas of the landscape, dates back billions of years.
But how did the moon come to be?
Experts broadly concur that the moon was formed around 4.51 billion years ago. A cataclysmic event involving a Mars-sized object colliding with Earth led to a fragment breaking away, which eventually coalesced to form the moon. The subsequent 200 million years witnessed the fledgling moon being repeatedly assailed by space debris, etching its surface with myriad cracks.
The Daedalus crater on the far side of the moon as seen from the Apollo 11 spacecraft (CREDIT: NASA)
Feng elucidated on this period, drawing parallels with Earth. "Much like our planet, the moon’s mantle once harbored pockets of molten magma," he noted. This magma, seizing the opportunity presented by the moon’s freshly minted cracks, reached the surface in explosive volcanic events.
Yet, the Chang’e-4 data presented a curious pattern. As the volcanic rock layers neared the moon's surface, they progressively thinned out. Feng poignantly remarked on this finding: "[The moon] was slowly cooling down and running out of steam in its later volcanic stage. Its energy became weak over time."
Chang'e 4 Lander and Rover on the moon (CREDIT: CNSA)
A prominent belief in the scientific community is that the moon’s volcanic activity ceased between a billion and 100 million years ago. This has led many to label it as "geologically dead." Contrary to this, Feng and his fellow researchers hypothesize the existence of magma reservoirs lurking deep beneath the moon's crust.
The journey of exploration is far from over for Chang’e-4, and Feng is optimistic about the future. "We are standing on the threshold of an era of groundbreaking lunar mapping," he expressed, hinting at even more revelations yet to come.
This monumental endeavor by the CNSA has not only amplified our understanding of the moon but also stands as a testament to human curiosity, perseverance, and the insatiable quest for knowledge. As we look up at the night sky, the moon's glow might just seem a little brighter, warmed by the stories we now share with it.
Facts about the dark side of the moon
The dark side of the moon is often misunderstood. It is not actually dark, but rather it is the side of the moon that never faces Earth. This is because the moon is tidally locked to Earth, meaning that it rotates on its axis at the same rate that it orbits Earth. As a result, the same side of the moon is always facing Earth.
Here are some facts about the dark side of the moon:
It is not actually dark. The dark side of the moon receives just as much sunlight as the side that faces Earth.
It is more heavily cratered than the side of the moon that faces Earth. This is because the dark side of the moon is not protected by Earth's magnetic field, which helps to deflect meteoroids and asteroids.
The dark side of the moon is home to a number of large lunar craters, including the South Pole-Aitken basin, the largest known impact crater in the Solar System.
The dark side of the moon is also home to a number of other interesting features, such as the Ocean of Storms, a large dark plain caused by ancient lava flows.
The dark side of the moon has been explored by a number of spacecraft, including the Soviet Luna probes and the American Apollo program.
Here are some additional facts:
The dark side of the moon is also known as the far side of the moon, the hidden side of the moon, and the averted side of the moon.
The first spacecraft to photograph the dark side of the moon was the Soviet Luna 3 probe in 1959.
The first humans to see the dark side of the moon were the crew of Apollo 8 in 1968.
The dark side of the moon has been the subject of much speculation and conspiracy theories over the years. Some people believe that it is home to a secret alien base or a lost human civilization. However, there is no scientific evidence to support these claims.
For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.
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