New Lunar Mineral Discovered in Returned Chang’e 5 Samples

Left: Chinese scientists with returned lunar samples. Right: Close-up representation of the new mineral Changesite-(Y). Credit: Xinhua/Jin Liwang.

Chinese scientists have discovered a new mineral in samples returned from the Moon by the Chang’e 5 mission. The Chang’e 5 mission was launched on November 24, 2020, and returned roughly 2 kilograms of samples from the lunar nearside on December 17 of the same year.

The mineral, dubbed Changesite-(Y), is the sixth mineral discovered on the Moon by humankind and the first new mineral discovered on the Moon by China, making it the third country in the world, after the US and Russia, to discover a lunar mineral. Changesite-(Y) was discovered by researchers at the Beijing Research Institute of Uranium Geology (BRIUG), a subsidiary of the China National Nuclear Corporation, during analyses of lunar basalt particles obtained by the Chang’e 5 mission. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) and the China Atomic Energy Authority (CAEA) jointly announced the new lunar mineral finding in Beijing on September 9. The mineral has also been recognized by the Commission on New Minerals, Nomenclature, and Classification of the International Mineralogical Association.

Chemically, Changesite-(Y) appears to be related to the more common phosphate mineral merrillite, which is found in lunar and meteorite samples and has also been found on Earth. Phosphate minerals are divided into several groups. The merrillite group is further divided into the merrillite and whitlockite subgroups. According to researchers at BRIUG, Changesite-(Y) is part of the Brianite subgroup that only appears on the Moon and in meteorites. The Changesite-(Y) sample, a single-crystalline particle with a diameter of only 10 microns, was manually separated from more than 140,000 similar-sized particles and then analyzed using X-ray diffraction to determine its crystal structure.

The researchers of BRIUG have also determined that Changesite-(Y) contains helium-3, which is believed to be a valuable fuel for nuclear fusion. Its extraction will provide scientific data for lunar resource evaluation and exploration. READ MORE