The lunar surface is covered by a layer of crushed, sharp rock called regolith. The fact that this layer also contains glass is not something new. The glass particles are the result of the intense heat produced by early volcanoes or the impact of meteorites.
A large amount of volcanic glass was discovered at the Apollo 15 and 17 landing sites, which was collected by astronauts and brought back to Earth. However, those were mostly dark and opaque. The ones discovered by the Yutu-2 are actually described as “macro-sized translucent glass globules.”
The findings were reported in the journal Science Bulletin by the team behind the discovery.
“The globules simply blow our mind, since they are so unique on the Moon,” said Dr. Zhiyong Xiao, the lead author of the study, in a statement.
The team has identified two such glass objects. There are two other globules that have yet to be confirmed since the image resolution wasn't high enough. They were discovered after the rover had passed by them. Therefore, it couldn’t obtain any compositional data.
However, based on their shape and the site where they were found (in the Von Kármán Crater, which lies in the southern hemisphere on the far side of the Moon), researchers believe that these beads are impact glasses.
This discovery could indicate that glass fragments might also form due to impacts on other planets. Moreover, these materials found in the regolith suggest that valuable material is already available on the Moon, and it could be used for constructing future lunar bases.
Although there is still a long way to go until that happens, such findings show that humanity is on the right track to developing an infrastructure for a long-term presence on the Moon.