Geologists at The University of Hong Kong have obtained lunar soil samples collected by the Chinese lunar probe Chang’e-5 in 2020. This is the first time a Hong Kong research team has secured such samples.

Chang’e 5 was the fifth lunar exploration mission in the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program of the China National Space Administration (CNSA). It launched on November 23, 2020 and returned to Earth on December 16, 2020.

The lunar soil samples that the team at the University of Hong Kong collected from Beijing. The samples are on a white table in a research laboratory.
The lunar soil samples that the team at the University of Hong Kong collected from Beijing (© The University of Hong Kong)

It was also the country’s first lunar sample-return mission, making China the third country to return samples from the Moon after the United States and the Soviet Union.

Postdoctoral fellow Dr Yuqi Qian travelled to Beijing to retrieve the samples, which weigh a total of 822.6 milligrams.

“We hope to reveal the secrets of the Moon and gain insights into the early Earth, which could have important implications for our understanding of the Solar System and beyond,” said Qian in a statement released by the university.

In addition, the HKU team will use the samples to study the phenomenon of young volcanism on the moon by studying the volatiles — a group of chemical elements and chemical compounds that can be readily vaporised— in the lunar soil samples.

The ascender (or descender) and lander assembly of Chang'e-5 on the moon surface.
The ascender (or descender) and lander assembly of Chang’e-5 on the moon surface (© China News Service via WikiCommons)

Chang’e-5 successfully landed on the lunar surface within the Procellarum KREEP Terrane, a chemical anomaly province known for its lunar volcanic deposits. 

Scientists who analysed the samples collected from this region discovered that the basalts — or moon rocks — were two billion years old, almost one billion years younger than any previous lunar volcanic samples collected by the Apollo or Luna missions.

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Header image credits: The University of Hong Kong

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From the Middle East to the Far East and a couple of places in between, Anjali has lived in no fewer than seven cities in Asia, and has travelled extensively in the region. She worked as a lifestyle journalist in India before coming to Hong Kong, where her favourite thing to do is island-hopping with her daughter. You can check out her musings on motherhood, courtesy her Instagram profile.

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