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In the 1960s and 1970s, the United States and the Soviet Union conducted unprecedented lunar exploration programs that remain unmatched to this day. The American crewed Apollo landings were complemented by uncrewed Soviet landings, with both yielding revolutionary bounties of scientific data, such as the hundreds of kilograms of lunar rock and soil that the missions returned to Earth. Oddly missing from all those samples, however, was any material that indisputably originated from the moon’s rocky mantle. Lying just beneath the cratered, desolate crust, the moon’s upper mantle is thought to be the frozen remnant of a vast magma ocean that existed more than 4 billion years ago. Directly studying samples of the mantle could unlock previously hidden chapters of lunar history, potentially reshaping our broader understanding of planetary formation and evolution. Now, a Chinese mission has discovered signs of mantle material at the moon’s surface, effectively setting an “X” on lunar maps for future explorers seeking this not-so-buried geological treasure.

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Category: Science