Mystery surrounds an object photographed on the moon by China's lunar rover last month. However, there is a likely explanation for the thing dubbed a "moon hut" by Chinese media.
The Yutu 2 rover landed with China's Chang'e 4 lander on the moon's far side in January 2019. In association with the space program, the Chinese media outlet Our Space has documented the rover's journey and recently shared a photo taken by Yutu 2 in November showing a tiny square-like object in the distance.
Our Space calls the object a "mysterious hut" or "house" and estimates it's about 80 meters in the distance. Scientists were intrigued by the thing and sent Yutu 2 to check it out.
There is a logical explanation for the cube-like object China's moon rover photographed.
Dr. Phil Metzger, a planetary scientist at the University of Central Florida, said the "moon hut" is likely a boulder worn down by space weather.
Metzger is an expert in lunar and Martian soil. His research focuses on how robotic missions and rockets interact with lunar soil. He knows a lot about the rocks and regolith, or dirt on the moon.
As for the square-like shape, Metzger believes this is due to image processing.
"If you look at the original picture before they enhanced it, you'll notice in the upper left and upper right it looks like a 45-degree slope on the corners of the object," Metzger said.
Scientists use imaging software that can fill in values for missing pixels. Metzger said that image processing and the low sun angle could make things appear more cubic than they really are.
The most logical explanation is that Yutu 2 will find a boulder when it arrives in two to three months.
"There are big boulders on the moon. In the Apollo program, we have pictures of astronauts standing next to them on the moon," Metzger points out.
However, giant boulders typically don't last too long on the moon because there is not a significant atmosphere there. Anything on the lunar surface is getting hammered by micrometeoroids and space weather.
Metzger said boulders are primarily created on the moon when an asteroid crashes, creating a crater and tossing up bedrock.
"When rocks and boulders sit on the moon, they get pummeled by dust-sized micrometeoroids over a period of 100,000 years," Metzger said.
If there is a large boulder, it's likely to be found near a relatively young crater.