A Chinese space capsule has begun its three-day return trip home to Earth, carrying with it the first moon rocks to reach our planet in more than four decades.
The Chang'e 5 lunar probe has been orbiting the moon for about a week, and started up four engines for 22 minutes to boost itself out of the moon's orbit, China's National Space Administration said Sunday in this Chinese social media post.
The craft's lander touched down on the moon earlier this month close to a formation called the Mons Rumker, an area believed to have been the site of ancient volcanic activity. It collected about 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of samples.
The return capsule is expected to land in northern China in the Inner Mongolia region after separating from the rest of the spacecraft and floating down on parachutes. The material would be the first brought back since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 probe in 1976.
The rocks and other debris were obtained both by drilling into the moon's crust and scooping directly off the surface. They may be billions of years younger than those brought back by earlier U.S. and Soviet missions, possibly offering insights into the moon's history and that of other bodies in the solar system.
China has set up labs to analyze the samples for age and composition and is also expected to share some of them with other countries, as was done with the hundreds of kilograms (pounds) brought back by the U.S. and former Soviet Union.
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