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NASA via Wikimedia Commons
NASA via Wikimedia Commons

China’s Lunar Rover Discovered a New Type of Rock on the Moon

NASA via Wikimedia Commons
NASA via Wikimedia Commons

Before China’s Yutu rover launched its lunar mission in 2013, rocks hadn’t been sampled from the moon's surface in 40 years. Now, as reported in Nature Communications [PDF], scientists have discovered an entirely new type of moon rock within these latest samples, proving we still have a lot to learn about our nearest celestial neighbor. 

The unmanned Yutu rover, whose name means “jade rabbit,” collected the special type of rock from the moon’s Imbrium Basin, one of the largest known craters in the solar system. The volcanic basalt rock sampled there was shown to have a mineral composition distinct from anything scientists have found on the moon before. Researchers suspect it originated from a relatively young region that sprang up approximately 2.96 billion years ago. 

The moon is believed to have formed 4.5 billion years ago when a Mars-sized object impacted the Earth, causing debris to fly into its orbit. The matter eventually fused together and cooled, but radioactive materials beneath its surface heated up the interior rock, causing “seas” of volcanic lava to form inside the moon’s craters 500 million years later. The Yutu rover’s geologic discoveries may help shed some light on the youngest of these lunar volcanoes. 

Previous volcanic rocks collected from the moon by U.S. and Soviet probes were shown to have either high titanium content or low titanium content. What makes this latest sample different is that it’s both intermediate in titanium and rich in iron oxide. Because different minerals in magma crystallize at different temperatures, the mineral diversity in these rocks could help scientists better understand the history of the moon’s interior.

"The variable titanium distribution on the lunar surface suggests that the Moon's interior was not homogenized,” Bradley Joliff, the only American researcher on the Chinese research team, said in a press release. "We're still trying to figure out exactly how this happened." You can find the full report here.

[h/t: The Guardian]

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Human Activity Has Permanently Altered Earth, for Better or Worse (Mostly Worse)
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Modern humans have roamed Earth for just a few hundred thousand years. In the grand scheme of things, that's a very short period. But in that time, we’ve triggered mass extinctions of plants and animals, polluted the planet, and developed nuclear weapons—and our legacy will linger in both nature and the geologic record long after historical records have been lost, according to Ted-ED’s video below.

Modern humans have altered the Earth’s landscape and atmosphere so profoundly that some scientists say we’ve ushered in a new epoch called the Anthropocene, or "new age of humankind," from anthropo (human) and cene (new). Before this, we were living in the Holocene (meaning “entirely recent”), which began around 11,700 years ago and faded sometime around 1950.

The 1950s ushered in both the plastics revolution and the atomic age, both of which permanently introduced chemicals into Earth’s fossil record. Meanwhile, humans have also shaped long-term plant and animal evolution with agriculture, fishing, and hunting. In short, our actions have long-term consequences, even if the human species ends up being a blip on the geologic time scale. Remember that the next time you drink from a plastic bottle, or see a cloud of smoke billowing through the sky.

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Spelunkers Discover New Caverns in Montréal's Ancient Cave Network
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An ancient cave system beneath a Montréal park is much more vast than experts believed, the National Post reports.

In 1812, a farmer discovered a cave underneath his property in Montréal’s present-day Saint-Léonard borough. Once used to stockpile ammunition and conceal soldiers during the Rebellions of 1837, the Saint-Léonard cave system in Parc Pie XII is today a tourist attraction and historical landmark. But some speleologists (cave experts) suspected there was more to the natural wonder than met the eye.

Beginning in 2014, two amateur explorers named Daniel Caron and Luc Le Blanc began searching for undiscovered passages in the Saint-Léonard caverns, according to National Geographic. By 2015 they had some leads; in October 2017, they used drills and hammers to break down a cave’s wall to reveal a new cavern.

The stalactite-filled chamber has soaring 20-foot ceilings, and it's connected to a serpentine network of underground tunnels. These passages formed during the Ice Age around 15,000 years ago, when glacier pressure splintered underground rock.

So far, Caron and Le Blanc have explored between 820 to 1640 feet of virgin cave passage, and expect to find even more. They believe the vast network sits atop an aquifer, and ultimately leads to the Montréal water table.

Spelunking the Saint-Léonard cave system is challenging—some passages are filled with water or require special climbing or rock-breaking equipment. The explorers hope that the caves will be easier to investigate during the dry season, and that the receding waters will allow them to reach new depths below Montréal’s surface.

[h/t National Post]

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