China’s Chang’e-6 Detects Negative Ions on the Moon’s Surface

By Lydia Amazouz Published on June 14, 2024 13:30
China's Chang'e-6 Detects Negative Ions on the Moon's Surface

China's Chang'e-6 mission has made a groundbreaking discovery on the far side of the Moon, detecting negative ions on the lunar surface for the first time.

This achievement marks a significant milestone in lunar exploration and offers valuable insights into the Moon's surface environment and its interaction with solar wind.

Chang'e-6's Historic Landing and Mission Overview

The Chang'e-6 spacecraft, equipped with a variety of scientific instruments, landed in the South Pole-Aitken Basin's Apollo crater on June 1, 2024. This mission, which included the European Space Agency's (ESA) Negative Ions at the Lunar Surface (NILS) experiment, aimed to collect samples and conduct various scientific tests on the Moon's surface. The mission was a collaborative effort between China and ESA, marking the first time an ESA instrument was deployed on the Moon.

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Girish Linganna, a defense, aerospace, and political analyst, highlighted the significance of this mission: "In just a little over 48 hours, China's Chang'e-6 mission landed on the far side of the Moon, collected samples, and successfully launched back into space. This was an amazing achievement, as it marked the first time that samples were collected from the side of the Moon that always faces away from Earth."

Far Side Of The Moon Imaged By The Chang'e 6 Lander As It Approached Its Landing Site.

Detection of Negative Ions

The NILS experiment quickly began its work upon landing, detecting negative ions created by the solar wind interacting with the Moon's surface. These ions form when charged particles from the Sun knock electrons out of atoms and molecules on the lunar surface, which then attach to neutral atoms or molecules, giving them a negative charge. Unlike Earth, which is protected by a magnetic field, the Moon's surface is directly exposed to these charged particles.

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Neil Melville, ESA's technical officer for the experiment, stated, "This was ESA's first activity on the surface of the Moon, a world-first scientifically, and a first lunar cooperation with China. We have collected an amount and quality of data far beyond our expectations."

Implications for Lunar and Planetary Science

The discovery of negative ions on the Moon has several important implications for lunar and planetary science. These ions provide valuable information about the chemical composition of the Moon's regolith, the layer of loose, fragmented material covering solid rock. The data collected by NILS will help scientists better understand the processes that occur on airless bodies in the solar system, such as asteroids and other moons.

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Martin Wieser, principal investigator for NILS, emphasized the broader impact of these findings: "These Moon observations will help us understand its surface environment and study negative ions on other airless bodies in the solar system—everything from planets and asteroids to other moons."

Broader Scientific and Technological Benefits

The study of negative ions on the Moon through the Chang'e-6 mission offers several significant advantages for both scientific understanding and technological advancement:

Atmospheric Insights: Investigating the formation and behavior of negative ions on the Moon can enhance our comprehension of similar processes in Earth's upper atmosphere. This improved understanding can refine models of atmospheric chemistry, aiding in the prediction of weather and climate patterns.

Space Weather Forecasting: Negative ions play a role in space weather phenomena. By studying them on the Moon, scientists can gain insights into how solar radiation and cosmic rays interact with airless celestial bodies. This knowledge can help predict and mitigate the effects of space weather on Earth's satellites and communication systems.

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Technological Innovations: Insights from lunar negative ions research can lead to advancements in ion-based technologies. This includes the development of ion propulsion systems for spacecraft and materials with unique electrical properties, potentially revolutionizing various technological fields.

Radiation Shielding: Understanding how negative ions form and behave in the lunar environment can contribute to the development of better radiation shielding techniques. These advancements can protect both space missions and terrestrial applications, such as shielding electronics and human health from harmful radiation exposure.

Environmental Monitoring: Techniques developed to detect and analyze negative ions on the Moon can be adapted for monitoring pollution and air quality on Earth. Since negative ions are often linked to air purification, this research could lead to enhanced environmental monitoring and control technologies.

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Fundamental Physics: Studying negative ions in the unique lunar environment helps validate and refine fundamental physical theories. This can lead to broad scientific advancements, indirectly benefiting various technological fields and contributing to our overall understanding of physical processes.

Neil Melville emphasized the success of the NILS experiment under challenging conditions: "The fact that NILS stayed within its thermal design limits and managed to recover under extremely hot conditions is a testament to the quality of the work done by the Swedish Institute of Space Physics."


An editor specializing in astronomy and space industry, passionate about uncovering the mysteries of the universe and the technological advances that propel space exploration.

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