China Moon Probe Returns Successfully, Rare Rocks in Tow

Jun 26, 2024

China’s Chang’e-6 lunar module thudded down on a windswept plain in Inner Mongolia Tuesday afternoon. Upon landing, it wasn’t much to look at. The domed capsule is about the size of a shopping cart. It was pitted, dented, and covered in scorch marks and soot from its re-entry to Earth. Yet its successful return marks a banner moment in astronomical history. Its cargo could help answer some of our biggest questions about the origins of our planet. 

The unmanned Chang’e-6 probe launched in May. It touched down on the far side of the moon on June 1. There, it gathered samples of rocks and sand. Then it took to space again. It is the first time humans have been able to retrieve a vessel that landed on the moon’s hidden face. 

“Chang’e-6 is the first mission (ever) to return samples from the far side of the moon,” Long Xiao, a planetary geologist, told The New York Times. “This is a major event for scientists worldwide and a cause for celebration for all humanity.” 

The samples include rocks from the moon’s surface. Some were drilled from below the moon's crust, too. Researchers hope these samples offer insight into the history of the moon, both as a potential former part of Earth and as a shield against space debris that might have struck our planet if the moon wasn't present. The Chang’e-6 team has announced it intends to share much of the data it collects with astronomers around the world. 

“Lunar exploration is a shared endeavor,” Dr. Xiao said, “particularly between major spacefaring nations like China and the United States.”      

Reflect: What are a few discoveries scientists could make from the moon rock samples that might completely change our understanding of our universe?

Photo of the moon courtesy Nativeplants garden on Wikimedia Commons.

Paragraph 4 emphasizes _______. (Common Core RI.5.5; RI.6.5)
a. how Chang’e-6 returned to Earth
b. what scientists hope to discover from Chang’e-6’s mission
c. what Chang’e-6 did on the far side of the moon
d. cooperation between the US and China
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