Today the satellite seems cold and dead to us, once a magma ocean sloshed there, spitting volcanoes, some of them mighty, fire over several billion years. Some researchers believe that there was volcanic activity in some areas 100 million years ago.
While the moon samples examined so far on Earth are between 3.2 and 4.6 billion years old, there could also be material at Mons Rümker that is no more than two billion years old. “The age of these rocks makes them interesting. They’re among the youngest on the moon, ”explains Glotch. In this way, geologists could learn something about the late volcanism there – and about how the celestial body gave off its heat over time. According to Glotch, these findings could also be transferred to other rocky planets in the inner solar system.
But for this, the Chinese have to collect the samples first. China’s space agency CNSA will soon announce whether the maneuvers work. First you should drill, then the surface material is collected with a shovel. Both actions should take place on Tuesday. The reason for the hurry is probably the fear of the Chinese space experts that the mechanical parts of the probe could be damaged by the strong temperature differences on the moon.
Western experts find the Chinese approach remarkable. “This mission is more complicated than it really should be,” says Mark McCaughrean, senior scientific advisor to the European Space Agency (ESA) in an interview with SPIEGEL. “It has quite a lot in common with the Apollo missions and is clearly designed as another step towards a human-crewed mission.”
Long term ambitions
The Europeans support the Chinese journey to the moon with the huge antennas of their worldwide communication network. They want to cooperate with Beijing as best they can. Because they still have big plans on the moon: In addition to the USA, which at least under the outgoing President Donald Trump had aimed for a manned moon landing by 2024, China is also planning to send people to the moon. And, like the Americans, not just for a short trip.
A long-term presence is planned, even if there is no official date for this yet. “We will determine when a manned moon landing should be carried out based on scientific needs and technical and economic conditions,” said Pei Zhaoyu, deputy director of the Center for Moon Exploration and Space Technology at the National Space Agency of China.
Scientists and space managers alike are interested in this area of the moon. There, deep in shady craters and hidden underground, there is likely to be large amounts of water ice to this day. These could, in the form of hydrogen and oxygen, supply rocket fuel for long journeys into space – or water for human outposts on the moon.