Scientists in China have discovered an intriguing lunar crystal called Changesite-(Y), and it contains a potential fuel source that could help revolutionize the production of clean and efficient energy on Earth. This discovery has given scientists hope of providing limitless power for the world.
The science and other stuff to know
Changesite-(Y) was part of 140,000 lunar samples (the first Moon rocks returned to Earth since 1976) brought to Earth by China’s Chang’e-5 mission in 2020. After analysis by scientists at the Beijing Research Institute of Uranium Geology, the crystal was found to have a radius of about 10 microns, a width smaller than that of human hair.
The crystal is the sixth new mineral discovered in Moon samples, and the first found by China. Before China, only the U.S. and Russia could claim to have discovered a new Moon mineral.
As reported by China National Space Administration, Changesite-(Y)’s composition includes helium-3, a version of the element helium that has long fascinated scientists because of its potential as a nuclear fusion fuel source.
With just two protons and one neutron, helium-3 is unique because it’s the only known stable isotope of any element that has more protons than neutrons. It also produces fewer radioactive byproducts and nuclear waste compared to other atoms, making it an ideal fuel source for nuclear fusion reactors.
According to experts, there are approximately 15 to 20 metric tons of helium-3 on Earth, which is little compared to the 1.1 million metric tons of helium-3 on the Moon’s surface. This isotope is abundant on the Moon due to solar winds that frequently storm the lunar surface.
China’s return of a crystal that’s filled with helium-3 suggests that the lunar surface could become the Persian Gulf of the future. This adds more reasons to return to the Moon because clean and abundant fusion energy could change the world.
China is currently mapping helium-3 fields on the far side of the Moon through Chang’e-4 mission. And if Changesite-(Y) turns out to be present in sizable deposits, it could be mined as a source of helium-3 and shipped back to Earth. However, we have a long way to go before that happens.