This Moon Crystal Could Power Earth for 45,000 Years
Recently, Chinese scientists discovered something interesting on the Moon... An unusual crystal. Moreover, they found out that this crystal contains an element that can literally replace nuclear fuel! Let’s find out more.
The composition of the Moon has long remained a mystery to us. Half a century has already passed since the Apollo mission. Unfortunately, we haven’t traveled to the Moon much since then, so it’s not surprising that it’s not so easy for us to study it.
But recently we’ve made a breakthrough in this area! In December 2020, Chinese scientists sent a Chang’e-5 probe to the Moon. The mission was named after the ancient Chinese deity of the Moon, Chang’e. Quite poetic, isn’t it?
Anyway, the probe went to the nearest side of the moon. It spent several days digging through the surface and rocks, and then returned to Earth. In total, it collected about 4 pounds of various lunar rocks, like basalt, solidified lava, and so on. And yeah, maybe it doesn’t sound too impressive, but it’s actually a mini breakthrough.
After all, we haven’t received any lunar samples since 1976! And these samples are very important for learning the history of our world. We’ve been struggling for many years to find out, for example... How the Moon was born at all? Yes, there were a lot of theories, but we still couldn’t find any proper evidence for any of them.
But thanks to the latest missions and some computer simulations, scientists finally found out the truth. The Moon was born when some random dwarf planet crashed into our Earth many millions of years ago. This dwarf planet was slightly smaller than Mars. The fragments of the Earth went into space, but some of them stayed in our orbit. Then they stuck together and formed the Moon.
It sounds horrifying, but in reality, the birth of the Moon was the best thing to ever happen to our planet. If it weren’t for this beautiful satellite, all our oceans would still be small puddles! Life wouldn’t have appeared on Earth at all! So this is already an amazing discovery, but that’s still not all.
Studying the collected rocks, scientists from the Beijing Research Institute discovered something... unusual. A rare lunar crystal. Looks pretty boring, doesn’t it? Just some tiny, transparent monocrystal about the thickness of human hair.
We’ve already found such things on the Moon before. These crystals were formed as a result of volcanic activity, just like some garnets on the Earth. And yep, the place where they discovered these crystals also suffered from volcanoes... 1.2 billion years ago. That means that this tiny baby is over a billion years old!
But that’s not the most important thing. It’s the fact that this crystal is made of a unique material... The one that we’ve never seen before. Researchers from the International Mineralogical Association have confirmed that such a composition can’t be found anywhere on Earth.
The crystal was named Changesite-(Y) — again, after the same Moon deity. And this is another achievement! This is the sixth previously unknown mineral that we found on the Moon and the first one found by China. Now it has become the third country in the world to make such a “lunar discovery”.
However, this tiny crystal still wasn’t the only remarkable thing they found. After studying this gem and about 140,000 other lunar particles, scientists have discovered something else. They found helium-3. Why is it important? Because this is one of the elements that feed the Sun and other stars in our universe.
We tend to say stuff like “put out the Sun”, “the Sun is burning” and so on. And this is one of the reasons why many people actually think that the Sun is a huge fireball. But it’s not. Its “burning” is actually a completely different process... which is called “nuclear fusion”.
The process itself is quite simple. During this reaction, hydrogen in the star turns into helium. But this simple process is actually one of the most violent and insane reactions in the universe! There’s a real boiling broth of particles inside the Sun.
The hydrogen nuclei that jump and rush there are constantly repelling each other since all of them are positively charged. And so they could continue to boil and chill around without bothering anyone... If it weren’t for the stars. The stars turned out to be cheaters.
They have such strong gravity that they basically “grab” billions of these little atoms and squeeze them together. Combining with each other, these atoms create new heavy elements, like the mentioned helium. And when this happens, they throw a lot of energy into space. That’s how the Sun “burns”. At the same time, it spreads so much energy that we can’t even imagine!
Okay, so what is helium-3? Well, this is an element to which even the Sun can say, “Whoa, dude, you should calm down.” The fusion of helium-3 atoms releases even MORE energy than in typical nuclear fusion! And most importantly, it doesn’t pollute the atmosphere with harmful things like radiation! We have very, very little helium-3 on Earth.
Its prevalence in our atmosphere is about 1 in a million. And besides, it’s constantly trying to escape from us back into space. Probably feels some bad vibes from us. However, scientists have recently found out that there’s a place that contains A LOT of this element... Yep, you guessed it. It’s the Moon.
We think that there’s more helium-3 on the Moon than on the Earth because of the solar winds. The Sun has been hammering on the Moon with its helium-3 for billions of years, so now it is all over the place. It’s still not too much if you compare it, for example, with Jupiter or Saturn... But don’t forget how much energy it can release!
For your information, with only 25 tons of helium-3, it is possible to provide America with energy for an entire year. Now, there are about 35,000 tons of it on Earth... and more than a MILLION tons on the Moon. Only these sources could feed the entire US for thousands of years! So basically, in the future, helium-3 may become a new source of fuel. And it’s better than nuclear fuel in... basically everything.
Helium-3 won’t leave any harmful waste and radiation, it’s more powerful and not that dangerous... In other words, this environmentally friendly and efficient energy could be a revolution for our planet. Sounds cool, huh? “So what are we waiting for?! Grab the shovels!”, you may say. But there’s a little problem here... Unfortunately, we haven’t yet come up with anything as wildly strong and hot as the stars.
To use helium-3, we need CRAZY temperatures and pressure. We need a thermonuclear reactor. And we have no idea how to build it... yet. And even if we could heat it up to such temperatures and get the needed pressure, we still don’t really know how to handle helium-3 correctly. Therefore, even if we have an infinite amount of helium-3, we still won’t be able to use it. But still, there’s a great power behind helium-3.
So it’s not surprising that different countries have already started a race for lunar resources. Now that Chang’e-5 has discovered a new helium-3 deposit on the nearest side of the Moon, this race can become downright global. For example, China already plans a new lunar mission in 2024 — Chang’e-6. During this mission, they want to collect the first samples from the far side of the Moon.