What is changesite?
Changesite – (Y) is a new mineral name approved by the International Mineralogical Association (IMA) and its Commission on New Minerals, Nomenclature and Classification (CNMNC) for the discovery by the Beijing Research Institute of Uranium Geology from the lunar soil brought back by the Chang'e 5 explorer. The chemical formula for Changesite – (Y) is (Ca8Y)□Fe2+(PO4)7 where Y is yttrium, the □ means vacancy which typically exists in crystals with a density less then 1 in 1000. Interestingly, the naming of this lunar crystal (嫦娥石Chinese name) was initially proposed as changeite, a customery name for minerals, for example, zeolite [ n+M1/n(AlO2)-(SiO2)x:yH20 where M is metal or H] or sodalite [Na8(Al6Si6O24)Cl2]. However, there is already a yellowish monoclinic crystal named changoite, foemula, Na2Zn(SiO4)2-4H2O), hence changeite was rejected by the IMA and CNMNC and later replaced with changesite, for the sixth mineral discovered on the moon. Changesite is a very tiny colorless transparent columnar crystal about 1/10th of human hair discovered from basalt rocks, fine grained extrusive ignicious rock formed by rapid cooling of low viscosity lava or magma. Basalt is commonly found on Mars and Venus spread over thousands of square kilometers as well as on the moon.
What is the significance of changesite and He3?
Of course, as a newly discovered crystal in the lunar soil, chanesite-(Y) has its significant meaning even though many of its physical properties have not been published yet. However, one scientific news related to changesite has raised the attention of the international scientific community is that the hydrogen isotope He3, a potential clean energy source, has been found with changesite (or contained in or with changesite) allowing the concentration of He3 to be estimated by the Chinese geology researchers.Thus more importantly the concentration of He3 in the lunar soil on the moon surface can be estimated. (He3 was discovered since Apollo 17.) He3 has been regarded as the clean source of powerful nuclear energy released from fusion process. Sun is the shining example of fusion energy; at extreme high pressure and temperature, atoms travel fast enough to fuse together releasing enormous amount of energy. On Earth, humans are facing the shortage of energy, fossil fuel even coal are being depleted and worse creating pollution and causing devastating climate change. Nuclear energy both fission and fusion energy have been explored to supply the humans' energy needs. Fission energy is not ideal coming with radiation side effects (source material as well as spent fuel). Fusion energy may be a clean energy if He3 is used as the fuel.
Clean and Safe Fusion Energy Using He3 and Deuterium
Man-made fusion energy experiment with deuterium and tritium is facing several challenges: 1. How to creat the high pressure and high temperature burning plasma (fusion chamber); 2. Safe materials and devices withstanding the fusion condition; 3. How to safely deal with the released radiation particle (neutron) contaminating the environment (apparatus); and 4. Where to find fusion fuel that is relatively easy to produce, store, and fuse. Deuterium and tritium are isotopes of hydrogen or protium (proton and electron), one has one additional neutron and the other two, their ion masses are heavier than protium. When deuterium and tritium fuse, they create a helium nucleus (two protons and two neutrons). The reaction releases an energetic neutron for generating electricity. Even though deuterium is common (~1/5000 hydrogen atoms in sea water, one gallon of sea water may produce energy equivalent to 300 gallons of gasoline) but tritium is radioactive with a half-life about 12 years thus rare in nature. (However, tritium can be generated by neutron enriched lithium). All the above problems may be lessened by using deuterium and He3 as fuel for fusion energy since they release energy (normal helium and a proton) without releasing the damaging neutrons.
Mining He3 from the Moon for abundant clean fuel
He3 is rare or non-existent on Earth. It is a by-product of the maintainence of nuclear weapons netting around 15kg/yr. However, He3 is emitted by the Sun (fusion) travelling with the solar wind. Earth's atmosphere prevents (protection) He3 to arrive on Earth but the moon with no atmosphere may welcome the He3 to its surface absorbed by the lunar soil. (reference: Jeffe Bonde and Anthony Tortorello) The discovery of He3 along with changesite-(Y) also may provide another possible explanation that He3 was released from inner body of the moon through volcanic actions since changesite is likely formed that way. If the Chinese researchers have figured out the concentration of He3 in the lunar soil on the moon surface, it will be a tremendous impetus for countries and corporations to focus on mining He3 from the moon and anticipating perfection of the He3-Deuterium fusion technology. One estimate stated that 25 metric tons of He3, filled in ¼ of SpaceX starship cargo space, can power U.S. energy consumption for one year. On a Feb. 16, 2021 press release, we find that
U.S. Nuclear Corp and Solar System Resource Corp have signed a letter of intent that SSR will provide 500kg of He3 from the moon to UNC in 2028-2032, a very intrigue announcement before changesite and He3 discovery news was reported on September 9, 2022. Of course, we should not be surprised that there might be more secrets connected to the moon exploration.
What will happen in the future?
As we know the U.S. has begun to explore the moon again through NASA's Artemis program, a robotic and human Moon exploration, approved by Donald Trump in 2017 and supported by Biden with three partners ESA (Europe), JAXA (Japan) and CSA (Canada). (21 countries have signed the Artemis Accord) The program's long-term goal is to establish a permanent base camp on the Moon and facilitate human mission to Mars. The launch of Artemis 1 has been delayed and currently scheduled between Nov. 12 and 27 following later with Artemis 2, 3, 4 (2024, 2025, 2027) and yearly mission after 2027. China's Chang'e 6 will be a sample return mission, chang'e 7, orbiter, lander, rover and water mission with possible launch before Chang'e 6. Chang'e 8 is for testing technology for constructing lunar base. After 2030 a crewed human landing with Russian is planned.
It is rather unfortunate that the U.S. space program has excluded China for political reason. Security consideration was a phony excuse. Only hostility breeds security concerns. At this point, China single handedly caught up with space research and exploration. It is so obvious that from mankind's point of view, humans must cooperate in space exploration before Earth is over-spent in resources. Just from He3 fusion energy perspective alone, the U.S. and China should be working as partners rather than hostile competitors. Doesn't it make sense?!