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China has discovered a lunar crystal made of a previously unknown mineral, while also confirming that the lunar surface contains a key component of nuclear fusion, a potential form of an effectively unlimited force that harnesses the same forces that fuel the Sun and other stars.
The crystal is part of a set of lunar samples collected by China’s Chang’e-5 mission, which landed on the moon in 2020, laden with about four pounds of rock, and delivered to Earth days later. After carefully sifting through the samples – the first lunar rocks to return to Earth since 1976 – scientists at the Beijing Research Institute of Uranium Geology discovered a single crystal particle, the diameter of which is smaller than the width of a human hair.
The crystal is made of the new mineral Changesite— (Y), named after the Chinese moon goddess, Chang’e, who also inspired the Chinese series of lunar journeys. It was confirmed as a new metal on Friday by the New Minerals, Nomenclature and Classification Committee (CNMNC) of the International Minerals Association (IMA), according to Chinese state-run publication Global Times.
Location of Changes— (Y) is the sixth new mineral identified in lunar samples, and the first mineral discovered by China. Before China, only the United States and Russia could claim the discovery of a new mineral for the Moon. It’s a transparent crystal that formed in an area near the moon’s northern face that was volcanically active about 1.2 billion years ago.
According to state media, the new moon samples also contain helium-3, a version of the element helium that has long fascinated scientists — and science fiction creators — for its potential as a nuclear fusion fuel source. This hypothetical form of force aims to harness the energy released by atoms that fuse under enormous pressures, such as those in the interiors of stars. Starlight is a ubiquitous product of nuclear fusion, but man-made fusion reactors will likely take decades to develop, assuming they are at all possible.
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However, if these reactors become a reality, helium-3 would be a good candidate for fuel because it produces less radioactive byproducts and nuclear waste compared to other atoms. While helium-3 is extremely rare on Earth, it is abundant on the Moon, a disparity that has fueled dreams of extracting material on the Moon.
Along these lines, China joined the United States and other countries in Show interest in resource extraction from the moon in the future.