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A new mineral found on the moon and a source of “energy for all people on Earth”

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In December 2020, China’s Chang’e-5 landed on a patch of the moon called Oceanus Procellarum and collected 1.73 kilograms of lunar soil. The valuable cargo was successfully delivered to Earth and Chinese experts began to study the collected material. It was found that about 90% of the cargo is pure lunar regolith. However, the remaining 10% of the material are particles of meteorites, silica and substances of volcanic origin. Recently, scientists made a sensational discovery – it turned out that the lunar soil contains a completely new mineral for science and a large concentration of the helium-3 isotope, from which a lot of energy can be extracted. The moon seems to be a rich source of useful resources.

A New Mineral on the Moon – Chang’e Stone

A new mineral for science in the lunar soil was discovered by scientists from the Beijing Research Institute of Geology. It was given the name Changesit-(Y), in honor of the moon goddess Chang’e. It is worth noting that the Chinese lunar exploration program itself is named after her.

The new mineral is a transparent columnar crystal with a radius of about 10 microns. It was discovered among 140 thousand particles of lunar soil during X-ray irradiation. The find was announced during a conference on September 9, 2022. Representatives of the International Mineralogical Association (IMA) confirmed the find as a new mineral.

New Lunar Mineral – Changesite-(Y)

Particles of lunar soil under a microscope

After this discovery, China became the third country that managed to discover a new lunar mineral for science. Several new compounds in the framework of the Luna program in 1958-1976 were discovered by Soviet scientists. In the 1970s, American experts found three minerals in the soil collected by the Apollo 11 astronauts: pyroxferroite, tranquilityite, and armolcolite. At first they were considered new to science, but then their earthly counterparts were found.

Photo of the lunar surface in 1969 with the Earth rising over the horizon.

Helium-3 isotope on the Moon

In addition to the new mineral, a large concentration of the helium-3 isotope was found in the lunar soil. The fact that it is in some quantity on the moon, scientists knew before, but Chinese researchers have proven that there is a lot of it. This is a very important discovery for science, because helium-3 is a candidate fuel for nuclear fusion. Scientists believe that neither the isotope nor its residual products are radioactive – if you use it in reactors, you will not need to think about how to safely dispose of waste.

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It seems that in the future a lot of helium-3 will be mined on the moon

Helium-3 has advantages, but you should not consider it ideal. The first disadvantage of this isotope is that the thermonuclear reactor filled with it must operate at very high temperatures. The second disadvantage is that helium-3 is a very rare isotope. An artificial way to extract helium-3 is to break down tritium in nuclear warheads and extract it in very small quantities. According to information from open sources, 15 kilograms of helium-3 are mined per year. Due to its rarity, the isotope is very expensive at $17,540 per gram.

It is believed that the use of helium-3 in reactors reduces the risk of disasters like Chernobyl

According to Chinese scientists, the surface of the moon contains up to 1.1 million metric tons of helium-3. This means that right now there are resources worth about 1.5 quadrillion dollars on the earth’s satellite. According to the head of the Chinese lunar program Ouyang Ziyuan, three flights to the moon a year will be able to provide energy to all people on Earth.

Extraction of useful resources on the moon

But it’s too early to rejoice – such flights will require a huge amount of money, time and effort. To extract one gram of the helium-3 isotope, specialists need to process about 150 tons of lunar regolith. Processing will be carried out either on the Moon itself or on Earth. In any case, the material will have to be transported and this will also cost huge cash investments.

Delivering cargo to the moon and back costs a lot of money

After the discovery of the Chang’e stone mineral and the helium-3 isotope, the Chinese National Space Administration became even more interested in lunar exploration. In 2024, China will launch the fifth phase of the Chang’e program, which plans to study the south pole of the moon and begin construction of a research station.

Finally, it is worth noting that China also intends to study Mars. It is believed that they will be able to deliver Martian soil to Earth earlier than the United States – as early as 2031.

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