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China lands probe on surface of the moon and collects lunar soil

WENCHANG, CHINA - NOVEMBER 24: A Long March-5 rocket carrying Chang'e-5 spacecraft blasts off from Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on November 24, 2020 in Wenchang, Hainan Province of China. China launches Chang'e-5 spacecraft to collect and return samples from the moon (Photo by Lin Yingxuan/VCG via Getty Images via CNN)

(CNN) — China has successfully landed a lunar probe on a previously unexplored area of the moon.

The robotic spacecraft, named Chang’e 5 after the mythical Chinese goddess of the moon, drilled into the surface of the moon to collect soil early Wednesday. It will remain on the moon collecting soil and rock samples until Thursday, guided by mission control on the ground, China’s state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

It’s the first attempt to collect rocks from the moon by any country since the 1970s.

The samples, expected to weigh about 2 kilograms (4.5 pounds), will be sealed into a container in the spacecraft.

If successful, the mission will make China only the third country to have retrieved lunar samples, following the United States and the former Soviet Union decades ago.

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Astronauts from the United States brought back 382 kilograms (842 pounds) of rocks and soil between 1969 and 1972 during the Apollo program, while the Soviet Union collected 170.1 grams (6 ounces) of samples in 1976.

When the samples are returned to Earth, scientists will be able to analyze the structure, physical properties and material composition of the moon’s soil, China’s space agency said.

The mission may help answer questions such as how long the moon remained volcanically active in its interior, and when its magnetic field — key to protecting any form of life from the sun’s radiation — dissipated.

A Long March-5 rocket carrying Chang’e-5 spacecraft blasted off from Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on the island of Hainan off China’s southern coast on Nov. 24.

The spacecraft landed on a previously unvisited area of the moon — a massive lava plain known as Oceanus Procellarum, or “Ocean of Storms.” This large dark spot, stretching about 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) wide, could be a scar from a giant cosmic impact that created an ancient sea of magma, according to NASA.

The landing marks the third time a Chinese lunar probe has successfully landed on the surface of the moon, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

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