A Chinese lunar capsule returned to Earth on Thursday with the first fresh rock samples from the moon in more than 40 years, offering the possibility of new insights into the history of the solar system and marking a new landmark for China's rapidly advancing space program, the AP reports. The capsule of the Chang’e 5 probe landed just before 2am in the Siziwang district of Inner Mongolia, the China National Space Administration reported. The capsule had earlier separated from its orbiter module and performed a bounce off Earth’s atmosphere to reduce its speed before passing through and floating to the ground on parachutes. Following recovery, the capsule and its cargo of samples were flown to the space program's campus in Beijing.
The spacecraft’s return marked the first time scientists have obtained fresh samples of lunar rocks since the former Soviet Union’s Luna 24 robot probe in 1976. The newly collected rocks are thought to be billions of years younger than those obtained earlier by the US and former Soviet Union, offering new insights into the history of the moon and other bodies in the solar system. They come from a part of the moon known as the Oceanus Procellarum, or Ocean of Storms, near a site called the Mons Rumker that was believed to have been volcanic in ancient times. "These samples will be a treasure trove," says Brad Jolliff, director of the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.
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