Researchers date the youngest moon rocks ever recovered

In recent years there has been renewed interest in exploring the moon's surface as preparation for potential long-term habitation of the moon, and exploration of other planets is on the horizon. China landed Chang'e-5 on the moon's surface in December 2020 and collected basaltic volcanic rocks that were returned to Earth. These were the first samples recovered from the moon since the Apollo missions ended in 1976.Researchers from Curtin University helped investigate the Chinese rock samples and determine their age during remote sessions in cooperation with a laboratory in Beijing. Remote investigations involved using large mass spectrometers, which in other cases have helped revolutionize the study of geology. Before China returned its samples to Earth, the youngest lunar basalt rocks had been collected by Apollo and Luna missions.

The samples were all found to be older than approximately 3 billion years. However, after the Moon rocks the Chinese collected were analyzed, it was determined the samples were about 2 billion years old, making them the youngest volcanic rocks ever identified on the moon. Results from the new study are important because it provides researchers with new calibration points for cratering chronology.

The results of the study confirmed what some experts had predicted using remotely obtained images of the moon. The determination also raises new questions asking why the young basalt rocks exist. Armed with the new evidence, scientists now plan to search for a mechanism explaining how the relatively recent moon heating could've supported the formation of basaltic magmas with temperatures over 1000 degrees Celsius.

The new information and the search for answers to that question will help researchers improve age dating for the entire solar system. China plans to conduct additional moon investigations with its Chang'e-6 Moon landing in 2024.