Skip to Content
Space

China says it found something bizarre and unexpected on the moon

September 4, 2019
yutu rover chang e 4
yutu rover chang e 4
yutu rover chang e 4CLEP/CNSA

Chinese media is claiming that while investigating the far side of the moon, the country’s Yutu-2 lunar rover stumbled upon a unique “gel-like” substance of unknown origin sitting inside a small crater.

What we know so far: Yutu-2 made the discovery during its eighth lunar day on the moon as it zipped through an area riddled with small impact craters (a lunar day lasts 29.5 Earth days; this one was from late July into early August). A member of the rover’s team noticed a bizarre, colorful luster in one of the mission’s recent images, so the team directed the rover to study it more closely. The only real details China has released so far is that the material is “gel-like,” and that is exhibits an “unusual color.”

What could it be: Right now, the best explanation we have is that the material is not actually a gel, but probably a glass made of rock or regolith that melted in a high-energy meteorite impact on the surface of the moon long ago—possibly the same kind of trininite pieces formed after meteorite impacts on Earth.

Strange materials aren’t unheard-of on the moon—in 1972, Apollo 17 astronauts found orange-colored soil. But no lunar missions have ever come across a glassy or gel-like material. Then again, this is the first mission ever to investigate the moon’s far side

Yutu-2 keeps punching above its weight: After beating its one-in-two odds of crashing miserably into the surface of the moon in January, Yutu-2 has been rolling on smoothly, studying the moon’s geology as it goes. The rover has already found and analyzed pieces of the lunar mantle thanks to its visual and near-infrared spectrometer—the same instrument employed to study the gel-like substance more closely. There are big hopes discoveries like these will help flesh out the history of water ice on the moon, and give future lunar prospectors direction on how best to harvest it.

Deep Dive

Space

supermassive black hole at center of Milky Way
supermassive black hole at center of Milky Way

This is the first image of the black hole at the center of our galaxy

The stunning image was made possible by linking eight existing radio observatories across the globe.

Mapping the atmosphere on Mars can help advance science on our own planet

The Emirates Mars Mission is monitoring and measuring the climate and atmosphere of the red planet, but this effort also helps promote and advance science at a national level.

SpaceX Starship
SpaceX Starship

How SpaceX’s massive Starship rocket might unlock the solar system—and beyond

With the first orbital test launch of Starship on the horizon, scientists are dreaming about what it might make possible— from trips to Neptune to planetary defense.

Photograph, Seine et Marne on march the 6th 2021 at night. Taurus constellation. On this image we can see the effect of the movements of artificial satellites through the sky. On the left we can see the planet Mars, on the right the famous stars cluster the Pleiades (M45). From the bottom right the luminous trail of the satellite STARLINK-1269, and from the top the luminous trail of the satellite STARLINK-1577
Photograph, Seine et Marne on march the 6th 2021 at night. Taurus constellation. On this image we can see the effect of the movements of artificial satellites through the sky. On the left we can see the planet Mars, on the right the famous stars cluster the Pleiades (M45). From the bottom right the luminous trail of the satellite STARLINK-1269, and from the top the luminous trail of the satellite STARLINK-1577

SpaceX just lost 40 satellites to a geomagnetic storm. There could be worse to come.

Increasing solar activity could play havoc with mega-constellations like Starlink in the coming years.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.