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Explained: What is China’s Chang’e-5 probe to the Moon about?

Early in 2019, China’s Chang’e-4 probe had successfully transmitted images from the far side of the Moon, also referred to as the dark side. This was the first probe to land in this portion of the Moon.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: November 24, 2020 7:55:19 am
In this Nov. 17, 2020, photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a Long March-5 rocket is moved at the Wenchang Space Launch Site in Wenchang in southern China's Hainan Province. (Xinhua via AP)

On November 24, China’s Chang’e-5 lunar mission will become the first probe in over four decades to bring back samples of lunar rock from a previously unexplored portion of the Moon.

Early in 2019, China’s Chang’e-4 probe successfully transmitted images from the far side of the Moon, also referred to as the dark side. This was the first probe to land in this portion of the Moon.

What is the Chang’e-5 mission?

Chang’e-5 probe, which is named after the Chinese Moon goddess who is traditionally accompanied by a white or jade rabbit, is the Chinese National Space Administration’s (CNSA) lunar sample return mission that is set to launch on November 24 from the Wenchang Space Launch Center on Hainan Island in China. 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 and return a 2 kg sample of the lunar rock possibly by digging about 2 metres deep into the surface of the Moon.

The mission comprises a lunar orbiter, a lander and an ascent probe that will lift the lunar samples back into orbit and return them back to Earth. Chang’e-5 comprises a robotic arm, a coring drill, a sample chamber and is also equipped with a camera, penetrating radar and a spectrometer.

The spacecraft is set to return to Earth around December 15.

In this Nov. 17, 2020, photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, a Long March-5 rocket is seen on the launch pad at the Wenchang Space Launch Site in Wenchang in southern China’s Hainan Province. (Xinhua via AP)

What do lunar samples tell us?

The first samples of rocks from the Moon were collected during the Apollo 11 mission. In a document from 1984, NASA noted that lunar samples can help to unravel some important questions in lunar science and astronomy, including the Moon’s age, the formation of the Moon, the similarities and differences between the Earth and the Moon’s geologic features and history and to see if the Moon can give scientists information about the solar system itself.

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.

A Long March-5 rocket carrying the Chang’e 5 lunar mission lifts off at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Wenchang in southern China’s Hainan Province, early Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (AP Photo: Mark Schiefelbein)

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. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

In 1970, the Soviet Union’s Luna 16 probe returned a sample weighing about 101 grams and taken from the Mare Fecunditatis area of the Moon. This was followed by the Lune 16 probe that returned over 55 grams of soil from the Apollonius highlands region. Both these probes collected their soil samples from a few tens of centimetres below the lunar surface. In 1976, Luna 24 collected a sample weighing over 170 grams from 2 metres deep into the lunar soil.

Also in Explained | The regional navigation satellite system or IRNSS that India is the 4th nation to have

A patch for the China Lunar Exploration Program is displayed on the uniform of a worker at the Wenchang Space Launch Site in Wenchang in southern China’s Hainan province, Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. (AP Photo)

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