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China makes history by returning the first sample from far side of the moon

This photo taken on June 25, 2024 shows the retrieval site of the return capsule of the Chang'e-6 probe in Siziwang Banner, north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
This photo taken on June 25, 2024, shows the retrieval site of the return capsule of the Chang’e-6 probe in Siziwang Banner, north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Xinhua/Jin Liwang

A Chinese space mission has made history by bringing the first lunar sample from the far side of the moon back to Earth. The Chang’e-6 mission landed on the moon’s far side earlier this month, where it collected a sample that was returned to Earth on Tuesday, June 25.

The return capsule touched down in the Siziwang Banner area in the north of China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region at 2:07 p.m. Beijing Time. The caspule had first entered the atmosphere around half an hour earlier, traveling at almost 7 miles per second. It then skipped back out of the atmosphere in order to slow itself down, before entering the atmosphere again and using parachutes to slow its descent.

Now, the capsule will be taken to a facility to be processed and analyzed for further study.

“After the lunar samples are delivered to the laboratory, we will first unseal the sample container, extract the samples, and separate the samples collected on the lunar surface from those drilled under the surface,” Wang Qiong, deputy chief designer of the Chang’e-6 mission, said in a statement. “A portion of the samples will be stored permanently, while another portion will be stored at a different location as backup in case of disasters. Then we will prepare the remaining portion, and distribute them to scientists in China and foreign countries in accordance with the lunar sample management regulations.”

This is the first time that a sample from the distant side of the moon, which always faces away from Earth, has been collected. Sometimes colloquially (but inaccurately) referred to as the dark side of the moon, it is a particularly challenging region to explore because it involves more communications challenges than operating on the near side.

As it is a more challenging location, scientists have less information about the geology of this region. It is thought to differ from the moon’s nearer side, such as having experiencing fewer of the lava flows that have passed over the moon’s surface, making it a potentially valuable way to learn about the moon’s history.

As well as bringing back this sample, the Chang’e-6 mission also included four international payloads from the European Space Agency (ESA), France, Italy, and Pakistan. The mission also made use of a relay satellite called Queqiao-2 which will remain in orbit around the moon, collecting scientific data using its instruments, including an extreme ultraviolet camera, an array neutral atom imager, and an interferometry experiment.

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
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