Volcanic mountains

Chinese moon rock studies include fusion energy analysis and volcanic history


Several scientific institutes in China are now studying the rocks collected in the moon by the Chang’e 5 research mission which includes the evaluation of the material as a potential source of fusion energy.

the Chang’e 5 mission delivered 3.82 lbs. (1.73 kilograms) of lunar matter on Earth in December. A first batch of 31 samples, totaling 0.616 ounces (17.4764 grams), comprising fine grains, basalt fragments and glasses, were distributed to 13 Chinese institutions in July following a first round of applications.

The Beijing Uranium Geology Research Institute is currently studying a 50 milligram sample of moon rocks for an isotope called helium-3. Helium-3 has been promoted as a potential fuel in future fusion nuclear power plants. Although extremely rare on EarthHelium-3 is believed to be most abundant on the moon, with the isotope delivered to the lunar surface unprotected by the solar wind, a constant flow of matter flowing from the sun and through the solar system.

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The institute uses specially designed equipment to determine the helium content, while the container will also heat the sample and gradually increase the temperature of the samples, until it reaches around 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (1,000 degrees Celsius). ).

“The main objective of the study is to determine the content of helium-3 in the lunar soil, the parameters of extraction of helium-3, which indicate at what temperature one can extract the helium, and how the “Helium-3 attaches to the moon. We will conduct a systematic study on these aspects,” said Huang Zhixin, a researcher in the Science and Technology Department of the Beijing Uranium Geology Research Institute. video surveillance end of August.

The idea of ​​harnessing lunar helium-3 for energy on Earth, however, may be a distant prospect at best, says Ian Crawford, professor of planetary science and astrobiology at Birkbeck, University of London. Crawford told Space.com that the huge investments and infrastructure required to mine, mine and transport lunar helium-3 means cheaper and renewable terrestrial energy sources will probably be preferable.

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China’s Chang’e 5 lander flew a small fabric flag on December 3, 2020. (Image credit: CNSA / CLEP)

“Nonetheless, making new measurements of helium-3 concentrations at new locations on the moon is scientifically valuable,” Crawford said.

A number of groups and companies are exploring the possibility of producing electricity from fusion energy, but technological and technical obstacles remain. The proposed fusion reactor designs mainly opt for hydrogen isotopes called deuterium and tritium, which are abundant on Earth, as fuel sources.

Meanwhile, the institute is also studying the samples for the possible presence of the radioactive element uranium.

“The research is not only of great value for the potential exploitation of these nuclear energy resources on the Moon in the future, but also of great importance for the scientific study of the Moon itself and of its relationship with Earth, “said Li Ziying, director of the Beijing Uranium Geology Research Institute, said.

Across the country, samples inform a range of scientific investigations. Elsewhere, Li Xianhua, a professor at the Institute of Geology and Geophysics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (IGGCAS), studied the geochemical isotopic characteristics of samples in an attempt to determine the age of rocks. The research could provide new information on when the last volcanic activity took place on the moon, in turn offering new perspectives on the history of our heavenly neighbor.

Li Chunlai, deputy chief designer of the lunar sampling phase of China’s lunar exploration project, said the moon can fill gaps in Earth’s geological history. Because Earth is an active planet, few records remain from its ancient times. “The Moon’s records are quite old, so studying its evolution can complement the Earth’s evolutionary story,” Li said. video surveillance.

Articles based on sample analysis have been submitted to major journals for review, including articles on water content and age of samples.

A second batch of Chang’e 5 samples is now open for applications, the China Lunar Exploration Project announcement in July. China plans to launch Chang’e 6 collect samples from the lunar south pole in 2024, which will provide additional new samples.

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