Moon rocks that a Chinese robotic spacecraft brought back to Earth last year have provided new insights into ancient lunar volcanic activity, a researcher said Tuesday.

Li Xianhua said an analysis of the samples revealed new information about the moon’s chemical composition and the way heat affected its development.

Li Xianhua speaks near a screen showing the volcano activities on the moon during a media briefing on the Chang’e 5 moon mission, at the Chinese Academy Science in Beijing on Tuesday. Moon rocks that a Chinese robotic space craft brought back to Earth last year have provided new insights into ancient lunar volcanic activity. (Andy Wong/The Associated Press)

Li said the samples indicate volcanic activity was still occurring on the moon as recently as 2 billion years ago, compared to previous estimates that such activity halted between 2.8 billion and 3 billion years ago.

“Volcanic activities are a very important thing on the moon. They show the vitality inside the moon, and represent the recycling of energy and matter inside the moon,” Li told reporters.

China in December brought back the first rocks from the moon since missions by the U.S. and former Soviet Union in the 1970s.

WATCH | China’s historic lunar mission moves into key phase

China’s historic lunar mission moves into key phase

China says the lander-ascender of its Chang’e 5 probe separated from the orbiter-returner and landed on the moon to collect samples, as this animated video shows. 1:03

On Saturday, China launched a new three-person crew to its space station, a new milestone in a space program that has advanced rapidly in recent years.

China became only the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to put a person in space on its own in 2003 and now ranks among the leading space powers.

Alongside its crewed program, it has expanded its work on robotic exploration, retrieving the lunar samples and landing a rover on the little-explored far side of the moon. It has also placed the Tianwen-1 space probe on Mars, whose accompanying Zhurong rover has been exploring for evidence of life on the Red Planet.

This image provided by China National Space Administration shows the Chang’e 5 probe gathering samples on the moon’s surface on Dec. 2, 2020. (China National Space Administration/Xinhua via AP)

China also plans to collect soil from an asteroid and bring back additional lunar samples. In addition, the country hopes to land people on the moon and possibly build a scientific base there. A highly secretive space plane is also reportedly under development.

The military-run Chinese space program has also drawn controversy. China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday brushed off a report that China had tested a hypersonic missile two months ago. A ministry spokesperson said it had merely tested whether a new spacecraft could be reused.

A visitor to the National Museum look up at a display of the lunar rock samples retrieved from the moon by China’s Chang’e 5 lunar lander late last year in Beijing on March 12. The Chang’e 5 mission brought back the first new samples from the moon in decades when it returned to Earth in December 2020. (Ng Han Guan/The Associated Press)

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