KEY POINTS

  • The Yutu-2 rover found odd-looking rocks on the Moon
  • The rover found the rocks while exploring an old crater
  • The rock holds clues to the Moon's history

China’s lunar rover has encountered strange-looking rocks while it was exploring the Moon’s south pole. According to a scientist, the rock could shed light on the history of the Moon’s formation.

The Yutu-2 is a robotic rover that was deployed on the Moon as part of China’s Chang’e 4 Moon mission. The robotic exploration of the lunar surface was launched by the China National Space Administration on Dec. 7, 2018.

For the mission, China focused its rover activities on exploring the Von Karman crater, which is located within the Moon’s South Pole-Aitken Basin. The vast crater measures 110 miles wide and is believed to be about 3.6 billion years old. According to scientists, during its formation, the crater was filled with lava, which left it smooth and dark.

As the Yutu-2 was exploring the crater, it came across a set of rocks that looked very different from the other rocks it analyzed on the Moon. Compared to the other rocks, Yutu-2’s new specimen has a lighter color and appears to be relatively younger due to the lack of erosion. On the Moon, older rocks tend to erode more due to micrometeorites impact and extreme changes in the temperature.

After looking at the rocks, Dan Moriarty, a postdoctoral program fellow at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, theorized that they might have been formed by a material that’s very different from what can be found in the surrounding region.

“Because [the rocks] all look fairly similar in size and shape, it is reasonable to guess that they might all be related,” he told Space.com. “Chang'e-4 landed on a volcanic mare, [a] basalt patch, and those volcanic materials are much darker than normal lunar highlands crust.”

“If these rocks are indeed brighter than the soil, it could mean that they are made up of a higher component of bright, highlands crust materials than the surrounding volcanic-rich soils,” he continued.

Moriarty noted that it is possible that the rocks were welded together when they were formed, which means they could be regolith breccia. This type of rock forms due to the extreme heat caused by a meteorite impact.