Chinese Scientists Discover Lunar Glass Materials from Lunar Soil

On May 8, according to a report from the Institute of Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, a team led by academician Wang Weihua recently conducted systematic material science research on lunar soil samples collected by Chang’E-5 mission from a unique perspective of glass.

The team discovered various types and origins of lunar glass materials through comprehensive analysis of the morphology, composition, microstructure, and formation mechanism of glass/amorphous substances in lunar soil. They constructed a classification catalog for lunar soil glass/amorphous phases and explained the spatial environmental characteristics of the sampling point on the moon’s surface from the perspective of glass formation and its transformative effect on lunar surface materials.

Illustration of space activities such as meteorite impacts and solar wind radiation on the surface of the moon. (Source: Institute of Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences)

The glass materials in the lunar soil of Chang’E 5 mission have some significant differences from that of Apollo missions’ lunar soil. For the first time, natural glass fibers were reported to exist in the lunar soil of Chang’E 5 mission. These glass fibers with ultra-high aspect ratios are formed by thermoplastic molding of viscous liquid during impact processes, similar to making amorphous wires through thermal drawing methods in a laboratory.

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Compared with glass beads with a low aspect ratio, the liquid forming glass fibers has a higher viscosity, which means that the corresponding impact temperature and impact velocity are lower, reflecting the milder micro-impact events on the lunar surface. These natural glass fibers prove that the lunar soil has good glass-forming ability and excellent processing and molding characteristics. It affirms the feasibility of using lunar soil to process and produce glass building materials on the lunar surface, which will provide important support for the construction of future lunar bases.

The above achievements also explain the contradiction between the high weathering degree and low glass content of lunar soil samples collected by Chang’E-5 mission, and have guiding significance for the study of scientific issues such as space weathering, spectral characteristics, and water content on the landing area of the moon’s surface.

Findings on diverse glasses revealed from Chang’E-5 lunar regolith were published online under the title “Diverse glasses revealed from Chang’E-5 lunar regolith” in the National Science Review.