Feature: Chang'e-5 lunar samples to open new chapter in Hong Kong's lunar scientific research-Xinhua

Feature: Chang'e-5 lunar samples to open new chapter in Hong Kong's lunar scientific research

Source: Xinhua

Editor: huaxia

2023-09-10 14:53:30

HONG KONG, Sept. 10 (Xinhua) -- The geologists at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) have received a set of precious research samples, the lunar soil brought back by China's Chang'e-5 mission.

"I was very excited when I learned that we could get the lunar samples to Hong Kong," Qian Yuqi, a postdoctoral fellow from the university's Department of Earth Sciences, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

On Aug. 7, the HKU announced that its geologists team obtained approval from the China National Space Administration's Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center to study the lunar soil samples collected by China's Chang'e-5 lunar probe in 2020. This marked the first time that a Hong Kong research team has secured lunar soil samples.

At the press briefing held earlier by the HKU, Qian, who took the lead in applying for the lunar samples, described obtaining lunar soil as a dream that came true for his team and the space science community in Hong Kong.

"I knew this was an opportunity we could not miss for the further development of lunar science at HKU and of even planetary science throughout Hong Kong," he said.

The lunar soil had been to Hong Kong two years ago. It was put on public display at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center and received a warm response. It is believed the return of the lunar soil will further promote the development of scientific research in Hong Kong.

Packing in transparent containers, the dark-colored soil samples, in the form of powder and particles, totaling 822.6 mg, will provide scientists with research data to unveil the mystery of the moon.

In Hong Kong, there are not many academicians engaging in lunar science research. Qian joined the HKU after completing his doctorate degree at the China University of Geosciences (Wuhan) in December last year, and became the first person in the HKU specializing in the study of the moon.

Qian has long been engaged in the research of deep space exploration, lunar exploration and fields related. During his doctoral study, his team successfully applied for the first batch of lunar soil samples collected by Chang'e-5.

The young scientist stressed that many scientific problems can be solved only when the lunar soil is studied. For instance, scientists can better understand the remote sensing data when comparing them with actual lunar samples.

When the sixth batch of lunar research samples was open for application earlier this year, Qian, with the support of Joseph Michalski, associate professor of HKU's Department of Earth Sciences, formed a team including experts specializing in tectonic processes and the evolution of the Earth's lithosphere, volcanic hazards, evolution of old continents, crustal growth and tectonic evolution, and some other relevant fields.

The competition for lunar soil application was fierce. When the results of the application were announced in June, with HKU being one of the units approved to borrow lunar soil for research purposes, Qian was overjoyed. He believed that in addition to a strong team of scientists, HKU's advanced equipment is also one of the reasons it stands out.

Using state-of-the-art instruments, the HKU geologists will analyze the lunar samples, which will offer valuable insights into the moon's geological and thermal history, its connection to the formation and evolution of planetary bodies in the solar system.

In December 2020, China's lunar exploration mission successfully conducted its first lunar surface sampling. The Chang'e-5 probe adopted two methods of sampling, one was drilling underground, and the other was using a robotic arm to do surface sample collections. The surface sampling system was developed by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

"A total of 1,731 grams of lunar soil were collected, of which about 1,500 grams were picked up by the robotic arm, which is a very important part of Chang'e-5," Qian said, adding that this demonstrated the strength of Hong Kong scientists in deep space exploration and the country's support for Hong Kong's scientific research.

Both Qian and Michalski believed that the establishment of a space research community among Hong Kong universities can lay a foundation for future cooperation and exploration, and better serve the deep space exploration study.