China's Yutu-2 Rover Finds That the Far Side of the Moon Has Stickier Lunar Soil

It's in a 'sticky' situation.
Chris Young

China's lunar rover Yutu-2 is part of the longest lunar surface mission in history, having landed on the far side of the Moon three years ago.

This week, the team behind the mission recently provided an update on the rover's findings by way of a paper published in Science Robotics. Since it landed, the rover has traveled 3,300 feet (1,005 meters), part of which was to investigate an oddly-shaped "mystery hut", which predictably didn't turn out to be aliens.

The rover is part of the Chang'e-4 mission, which was the first to land on the far side of the Moon when it reached our celestial neighbor in January 2019. A year later, in January 2020, the mission released a wealth of images of the far side of the Moon. The mission's main aim is to study the composition of volcanic rocks on the far side of the Moon to the more extensive samples taken of those on the near side. The latest update provides an interesting comparison between the composition — to be precise, the stickiness — of the soil on the near and the far side of the Moon.

China's historic lunar discoveries

One of the findings the Yutu-2 outlined in their new paper was that soil appears to be stickier on the far side of the Moon. As Gizmodo points out, the team made this discovery when they saw that lunar soil was sticking to Yutu-2's wheels much more than it has been observed to do so on rovers on the near side of the Moon.

In their paper, the team wrote that "cloddy soil sticking on [Yutu-2's] wheels implies a greater cohesion of the lunar soil than encountered at other lunar landing sites. Further identification results indicate that the regolith resembles dry sand and sandy loam on Earth in bearing properties, demonstrating greater bearing strength than that identified during the Apollo missions." Interestingly, the team also pointed out that their new findings "may lead to locomotion with improved efficiency and larger range," suggesting that future missions to the far side of the Moon could have rovers specially designed based on the new findings on the composition of the terrain. 

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China's Yutu-2 Rover Finds That the Far Side of the Moon Has Stickier Lunar Soil
The Chang'e-4 lander with the ramp for Yutu-2. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Yutu-2 also discovered 88 craters, 57 of which were less than 32.8 feet (10 meters) across. Only two of these were more than 196 feet (60 meters) across. Based on the relatively small size of the majority of these craters, the researchers believe they may be secondary craters of the larger Zhinyu crater near the rover's landing location.

China's Chang'e-5 mission recently detected water from the lunar surface for the first time in history, and China's space agency also recently announced it was building a fission reactor for the Moon that would be roughly 100 times more powerful than one being built by NASA. China's Chang'e-4 mission, and the subsequent Chang'e-5 mission, are part of the country's ambitious plans to catch up with the achievements of the U.S. and Russia in space to position itself as one of the world's spacefaring superpowers.