The Chang'E 3 spacecraft has landed on one of the most geologically interesting spots on the Moon. What might it discover?
Yutu rolls off the Chang’E 3 lander spacecraft, beginning its lunar sojourn.
The Chang’E 3 spacecraft, carrying the Yutu (Jade Rabbit) surface rover, successfully landed on the Moon yesterday. Despite pre-mission announcements about a planned landing in the “Bay of Rainbows” (Sinus Iridum in the approved Latin nomenclature of the Moon), the spacecraft actually set down in the northern region of the “Sea of Rains” (Mare Imbrium), the far eastern edge of its designated landing box. Whether by design or fortuitous accident, this site is actually more interesting geologically than the spacecraft’s original destination.
Two major terrain types dominate the Moon’s geology. The bright, rugged highlands date from the time of crustal formation 4.5 billion years ago and were intensely cratered during the first 600 million years of lunar history. The younger areas are the dark, smooth maria, made up of iron-rich lava flows. These lavas mostly erupted after the heavy bombardment of the cratered highlands ended about 3.9 billion years ago and eruptions continued sporadically for another billion years. The exact date of cessation of this volcanism is ...