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Chinese lunar probe returns to Earth with the world’s first samples from the far side of the moon

BEIJING — China’s Chang’e 6 probe returned on Earth on Tuesday with rock and soil samples from the little-explored far side of the moon in a global first.

The probe landed in northern China on Tuesday afternoon local time in the Inner Mongolia region.

Chinese scientists anticipate the returned samples will include 2.5-million-year-old volcanic rock and other material that scientists hope will answer questions about differences between the moon’s two sides.

While past U.S. and Soviet missions have collected samples from the moon’s near side, the Chinese mission was the first that has collected samples from the far side.

The near side is what is seen from Earth, and the far side faces outer space. The far side is also known to have mountains and impact craters, contrasting with the relatively flat expanses visible on the near side.

The probe left Earth on May 3, and its journey lasted 53 days. The probe has drilled into the core and scooped rocks from the surface.

The samples “are expected to answer one of the most fundamental scientific questions in lunar science research: what geologic activity is responsible for the differences between the two sides?” Zongyu Yue, a geologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said in a statement issued in The Innovation, a journal published in partnership with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

China in recent years has launched multiple successful missions to the moon, collecting samples from the moon’s near side with the Chang’e 5 probe previously.

It is also hoped that the probe will return with material that bears traces of meteorite strikes from the moon’s past.

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