China’s Yutu 2 rover has discovered a strange object on the horizon while exploring the Von Kármán Crater on the Moon’s far side. In a very blurry image, it appears to be a cube-shaped protrusion in an otherwise featureless landscape.
China National Space Administration outreach program Our Space referred to it as a “mysterious hut” in a post on social network Weixin.
“Was it a home built by aliens after the crash landing?” the post playfully speculates. “Or is it the pioneer spacecraft of the predecessors to explore the Moon?”
The answer is that it is most likely neither of those things, but something we know the Moon has in abundance: rocks. However, we won’t know for sure until Yutu 2 can close the 80-meter (260-foot) distance and study it up close – a process that will take another two or three months.
This is due in part to the solar-powered rover’s need to shut down for the duration of the lunar night, as well as when the Sun is directly overhead, to avoid overheating; and in part to the rover’s need to travel slowly, navigating the hazardous, rubble-strewn, and crater-pocked lunar terrain.
Even though we will have to wait, there are some hints as to the identity of the cube, such as a relatively new impact crater nearby. This suggests that the object could be a boulder excavated during the impact, which has previously been observed on the Moon.
It’s not the first strange thing Yutu 2 has discovered on the side of the Moon that is always facing away from Earth. In 2019, it discovered a peculiar substance described as “gel-like,” which turned out to be lunar rock melted into glass due to an impact.
Without an atmosphere to protect it, the Moon gets smacked into a lot.
A closer look at the “mysterious hut” will reveal something about the Moon, even if it isn’t the presence of aliens. If it’s a boulder excavated from beneath the lunar surface, we might be able to learn more about the Moon’s composition underneath the layer of rock and rubble. As a result, CNSA scientists are keen to take a closer look.
The rock was discovered on the 36th day of Yutu 2’s operations on the Moon. It is currently on its 37th lunar day since landing in January 2019.
Yutu 2 and spacecraft Chang’e 4 were originally scheduled to last three months, but they are now approaching the end of their third year and are still going strong.