moon
Sean Cate
Sean Cate
June 20, 2024 ·  3 min read

‘Hidden’ Structures Discovered on Far Side of the Moon

The Moon has been a source of wonder and mystery for centuries. Even with numerous missions and extensive research, many of its secrets remain hidden beneath its surface. Recent discoveries by China’s Chang’e-4 mission have shed light on previously hidden structures on the far side of the Moon, revealing billions of years of geological history and providing new insights into its formation and evolution.1

The Chang’e-4 Mission

Chang'e 4 Lander and Rover on the moon
Credit: SNSA

Launched in 2018, the Chang’e-4 lander by the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) became the first spacecraft to land on the far side of the Moon. This historic mission has been capturing stunning images of impact craters and collecting mineral samples, offering unprecedented insights into the Moon’s subsurface structures. In 2019, the Yutu-2 rover, part of the Chang’e-4 mission, began using Lunar Penetrating Radar (LPR) to map the upper 1,000 feet (300 meters) of the lunar surface in finer detail than ever before.2

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Findings on the Far Side of the Moon

The Moon's Daedalus crater
Credit: NASA

The findings from the Chang’e-4 mission, recently published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, reveal the top 130 feet (40 meters) of the far side of the Moon’s surface consist of multiple layers of dust, soil, and broken rocks. Hidden within these layers is a crater formed by a large impact event. Lead study author Jianqing Feng explained that the rubble surrounding this formation is likely ejecta from the impact.

Beneath these surface layers, scientists discovered five distinct layers of lunar lava that spread across the landscape billions of years ago. These findings suggest a dynamic volcanic history, with the Moon’s mantle containing pockets of molten magma that erupted through surface cracks created by space debris impacts.3

Formation and Evolution of the Moon

The Moon is believed to have formed approximately 4.51 billion years ago following a colossal collision between a Mars-sized object and the early Earth, a theory known as the Giant Impact Hypothesis. This event would have ejected a significant amount of debris into space, which eventually came together to form the Moon. For about 200 million years, the near and far side of the Moon continued to be bombarded by meteoroids, which created cracks in its surface and allowed magma from its mantle to seep through in volcanic eruptions.

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Volcanic Activity

Earth's Crust and Mantle
Credit: Getty

The new data from Chang’e-4 shows a gradual decrease in volcanic activity over time. The layers of volcanic rock become thinner closer to the surface, indicating that the Moon was slowly cooling and its volcanic energy waning. “The Moon was slowly cooling down and running out of steam in its later volcanic stage,” Feng noted. This suggests that volcanic activity on the Moon ended between 1 billion and 100 million years ago, leading to its current state as a largely “geologically dead” body.

Buried Structures and Future Exploration

The Far Side of the moon
Credit: NASA

The data collected by Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2’s LPR have unveiled potential buried structures within the Moon’s crust. These structures, detected at depths previously unreachable by other ground-penetrating technologies, could provide further clues about the Moon’s geological past. The findings hint at the possibility of residual magma deep beneath the lunar surface, suggesting that the Moon may not be entirely inactive geologically.

The Chang’e-4 mission continues to work on mapping the far side of the Moon’s subsurface, aiming to uncover more of these hidden structures and provide deeper insights into the Moon’s composition and history. As Feng and his team continue their groundbreaking research, they hope to reveal more unexpected geological formations.

Conclusion

The discoveries made by China’s Chang’e-4 mission have significantly advanced our understanding of the Moon’s geological history. By revealing previously hidden structures and providing detailed maps of the lunar subsurface, the mission has opened new avenues for future exploration and study. These findings not only enhance our knowledge of the Moon’s formation and evolution but also pave the way for further scientific breakthroughs in lunar research. The far side of the Moon still holds many secrets, waiting to be uncovered by the next generation of explorers and scientists.

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Sources

  1. Scientists map 1,000 feet of hidden ‘structures’ deep below the dark side of the moon.” Live Science. Isobel Whitcomb. August 18, 2023.
  2. ‘Hidden’ structures discovered on the far side of the Moon.” Unilad. Gerrard Kaonga. June 11, 2024.