Using isotope dating and a technique based on lunar crater chronology, which partially estimates the age of an object in space by counting the craters on its surface, the team found that lava flowed in Oceanus procellarum 2 billion years ago.
Chang’e 5 was China’s first lunar sample return mission and the first to return lunar material since 1976. Starting in late November and returning in early December 2020, it is one of at least eight phases in China’s lunar program to explore the entirety of the moon.
Nemchin says there is no evidence that radioactive elements that generate heat (such as potassium, thorium, and uranium) exist in high concentrations under the moon’s mantle. That means these elements likely didn’t cause these lava flows as the scientists thought. Now they have to look for other explanations for the origin of the currents.
The volcanic history of the moon could teach us more about that of the earth. According to the giant impact theory, the moon may be just a piece of earth that was torn off when our planet collided with another.
“Every time we get new or improved information about the age of things on the moon, it not only affects our understanding of the universe, but also volcanism and even general geology on other planets,” says Paul Byrne , an associate professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis who was not involved in the study.
Not only did volcanic activity shape the appearance of the moon – those ancient lava beds are now visible to the naked eye as huge dark spots on the moon’s surface – but could even help answer the question of whether we are alone in the universe, says Byrne.
“Finding extraterrestrial life requires an understanding of habitability in part,” says Byrne. Volcanic activity plays a role in the cultivation of atmospheres and oceans, key components of life. But what exactly these new discoveries tell us about potential life elsewhere remains to be seen.