Chang'E-4 initial spectroscopic identification of lunar far-side mantle-derived materials

Nature. 2019 May;569(7756):378-382. doi: 10.1038/s41586-019-1189-0. Epub 2019 May 15.


Over 60 years of spacecraft exploration has revealed that the Earth's Moon is characterized by a lunar crust1 dominated by the mineral plagioclase, overlying a more mafic (richer in iron and magnesium) mantle of uncertain composition. Both crust and mantle formed during the earliest stages of lunar evolution when late-stage accretional energy caused a molten rock (magma) ocean, flotation of the light plagioclase, sinking of the denser iron-rich minerals, such as olivine and pyroxene, and eventually solidification2. Very large impact craters can potentially penetrate through the crust and sample the lunar mantle. The largest of these craters is the approximately 2,500-kilometre-diameter South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin3 on the lunar far side. Evidence obtained from orbiting spacecraft shows that the floor of the SPA basin is rich in mafic minerals4, but their mantle origin is controversial and their in situ geologic settings are poorly known. China's Chang'E-4 lunar far-side lander recently touched down in the Von Kármán crater5,6 to explore the floor of the huge SPA basin and deployed its rover, Yutu-2. Here we report on the initial spectral observations of the Visible and Near Infrared Spectrometer (VNIS)7 onboard Yutu-2, which we interpret to represent the presence of low-calcium (ortho)pyroxene and olivine, materials that may originate from the lunar mantle. Geological context6 suggests that these materials were excavated from below the SPA floor by the nearby 72-km-diameter Finsen impact crater event, and transported to the landing site. Continued exploration by Yutu-2 will target these materials on the floor of the Von Kármán crater to understand their geologic context, origin and abundance, and to assess the possibility of sample-return scenarios.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't