39 Feet of Moon Dust


Victor Tangermann 

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing have started analyzing data collected by the country’s Yutu-2 Moon rover’s ground-penetrating radar. The instrument peered 40 meters (131 feet) below the lunar surface — and found it was sitting on top of a mountain of fine dust.

China’s Chang’e 4 lander touched down on the far side of the Moon in January 2019, becoming the first man-made object to do so. Shortly after, it deployed the rover Yutu-2 from its belly. The rover has been exploring the South Pole-Aitken basin, the largest and oldest crater on the Moon, ever since.

Using high-frequency radar to look beneath the surface, it found that it was sitting on top of 12 meters (39 feet) of fine Moon dust, as detailed in a paper published in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday.

“That’s a lot of regolith,” David Kring, senior scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston who was not involved in the research, told The New York Times. “That’s food for thought.”

The fine particles were likely the result of many small meteorite collisions and a ton of solar radiation, as New Scientist reports.

Below the dust, between 12 and 24 meters (39 and 79 feet), the rover spotted larger rocks, likely what’s left of larger asteroid and meteorite impacts. Further below that, the rover detected alternating layers of fine and coarser soil.

Most noteworthy is the striking difference between the new readings and the ones taken at Chang’e 4’s landing site, where measurements suggested it landed on top of a dense lava layer buried below the surface, the remains of a volcanic event.

“The subsurface structure at the Chang’e 4 landing site is more complex, and suggests a totally different geological context,” Yan Su, co-author from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told New Scientist.

READ MORE: China’s rover has discovered what lies beneath the moon’s far side [New Scientist]
More on the mission:China Claims Its Moon Rover Found a Colorful “Gel-Like” Substance

Space Brain




Zero gravity can become a nuisance. Astronauts will Velcro themselves in place while they sleep so they don’t drift away, but there are fewer ways to keep things inside their body in place.

For instance, it turns out fluids float upward into astronauts’ brains during long spaceflights, causing their brains to expand. Even months after they’ve returned to Earth, the astronauts’ ventricles — the sacs in the brain that contain cerebrospinal fluids — remain enlarged, causing vision problems and other medical issues, according to research published Monday in the journal PNAS.

Water Balloons

The study, conducted by a large team of European neuroscientists, found that the ventricles of 11 Russian cosmonauts who returned to Earth had expanded by more than 11 percent, stretched out by the fluid buildup in their brains.

Seven months after they returned, the ventricles were still six percent larger than normal, according to the study, which connected the swollen ventricles to existing reports of worsening astronaut eyesight.

Brain Trust

But because this is an emerging field of medicine, doctors don’t know whether the effect increases during longer spaceflights.

“We need to really check the brain, check the visual system, check cognition because we do not know if this has any effect on that, and check people who spent different durations in space to tell if the effect keeps increasing,” University of Antwerp neuroscientist Angelique Van Ombergen told New Scientist. “Currently, nobody knows.”

READ MORE: Astronauts may have vision problems because of liquid in their brains [New Scientist]

More on space medicine: Alarming Research: Zero Gravity Makes Astronauts’ Brains Age Faster