The first rover to trek the far side of the Moon found sticky soil on the far side.

The Moon is bar none the most popular celestial body we’ve studied here on Earth, and of course, landed on it. Although we see it face change every day, but due to tidal locking, we only get to see one side — the near side (where the Apollo crew landed). The other side — the far side — has never been seen. That wasn’t until in 2019, when the Chinese Chang’e 4 Mission sent a rover to trek the far side of the moon for the first time. And surprisingly, the rover just found sticky soil on the lunar surface. What do you think that mean?

A Peek At The Far Side

The Yutu-2 rover is the first rover to visit the far side of the moon found stark differences between the near side and over there. These include a greater abundance of small rocks and impacts that are not found on the near side. There has been several exploratory missions to the moon, both crew and uncrewed, but due to difficulties communicating to Earth, the far side has remained unexplored.

Image: NASA | the lunar surfaces, near side (left) with lots of maria and less craters, and the far side (right) with lots of craters and less maria

However, in 2019, the Chinese Chang’e 4 Mission deployed the Yutu-2 rover to trek the far side for the first time. In a recent study led by Liang Ding at the Harbin Institute of Technology in China, researchers have found something out of the extraordinary on the far side’s soil composition. They have successfully deduced features of the lunar surface based on how Yutu-2 trundled around, and from spectroscopic observations.

What’s Really On The Other Side?

The researchers found that the rover didn’t skid nor slide as much as it would have done on the near side. This indicates that the far side is relatively flat and even. The soil also appears to be sticky, another indication that the rover’s wheels had a supportive surface to slide upon. This discovery will be useful for designing future lunar rovers, and understanding the surface geography can shed light on the history of the moon itself, especially the far side.

Image: CNSA / Chang’e 4 Mission | Yutu-2 rover on the far side of the moon

“Finding a larger proportion of small rocks is probably linked with the age of the surface,” says Lionel Wilson at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. “You’ve worn down the larger rocks. If you wait long enough, you’ll reduce a rock just to several millimeter-sized particles.”

The rover also found some dark greenish, glistening material at the bottom of one crater — this was quite similar to materials found from Apollo mission samples. These are probably remnants of a previous impact, and the first time that such minerals have been found in situ on the lunar surface.

“Any information on the history of bombardment, at all scales, from large impactors all the way down to the atomic scale, is really important and valuable,” Wilson added.

The Far Side Is Exciting

Image: CNSA / Chang’e 4 Mission lunar rover | rare photogragh of Yutu-2 rover trekking the lunar surface

The far side of the moon is also relatively electromagnetically quiet due to the fact that it obscures radio transmissions from Earth. The far side would be well suited for radio astronomy. This side could host observatories for advance research into deep space.

“The exploration of the far side is really in its infancy,” says Sara Russell at the Natural History Museum in London. “It’s like this whole new world to explore. We really have a lot to find out about the far side of the moon; it’s really exciting,” she added.

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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Sun, Jan 23, 2022.

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