An intriguing object that appears cube-shaped has attracted the attention of scientists working on China’s Chang’e 4 mission on the far side of the Moon.
Juxtaposed against the blackness of space, the object sticks up from the horizon like a sore thumb. It’s practically begging the Yutu 2 rover to come on over and say hi—and mission controllers with the Chang’e 4 mission seem willing to oblige, according to Our Space, a Chinese language science outreach channel affiliated with China National Space Administration (CNSA).
The “mysterious hut,” as Our Space describes it, was spotted in Von Kármán crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin. This spot on the far side of the Moon is where Yutu 2 has been working since the mission landed there on January 3, 2019.
Mission controllers commanded the six-wheeled vehicle to scan the surrounding skyline when “an obtrusive cube on the northern skyline attracted their attention,” as Our Space writes (as translated by Google). “Was it a home built by aliens after a crash landing? Or is it the pioneer spacecraft of predecessors to explore the Moon?,” the post continues.
They’re probably joking—or at least, I hope they’re joking—but Andrew Jones, a correspondent with SpaceNews who covers China’s space program, offered a more restrained take, tweeting that “it’s not an obelisk or aliens, but certainly something to check out,” adding that large boulders “are sometimes excavated by impacts.”
The true shape of this object is hard to discern, and its oddly geometric proportions could be the result of pixelation—a visual artifact seen in low-resolution images. (Visual artifacts are always a cause to consider when something particularly surprising shows up in space imagery, like this beam of light spotted on Mars in 2014.)
This isn’t the first weird thing to be spotted during the Chang’e 4 mission that turned out to be nothing. And by nothing, I mean rocks. Back in September 2019, Yutu 2 encountered a green and glistening gel-like substance—not the kind of thing you’d expect a rover to find on the Moon—that turned out to be impact melt breccia—rock fragments cemented together as the result of extreme heat. More recently, the rover spotted unusual shards sticking out from the surface that turned out to be rocks tossed out from an impact. So the odds of the mystery hut being a rock or boulder are spectacularly good.
Still, it would be smart to investigate this object further just to make sure, and that’s apparently what’s going to happen. Our Space says the object is located 260 feet (80 meters) from the rover’s current location and that it’ll take Yutu 2 around two to three months to reach it.
The Chang’e 4 mission has already resulted in some cool new science, such as the discovery of mantle material on the Moon’s far side, and this latest distraction is a fun bonus. We look forward to seeing this apparent boulder in more detail, but in the meantime we can all secretly hope that Yutu 2 will stumble upon something far more exotic, like an alien probe or the remnants of an interstellar spaceship.