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Photo: NASA

China's most ambitious robotic Moon mission launched on a journey to the lunar surface Monday.

Why it matters: The mission — called Chang'e-5 — is expected to collect samples of Moon rocks that will be delivered back to Earth for analysis. If successful, these will be the first Moon samples returned to Earth since 1976.

Details: The Chang'e-5 spacecraft is expected to land in Oceanus Procellarum, where it will use a drill and robotic arm to collect about 4.4 pounds of Moon rocks, according to a NASA description of the mission.

  • The sample collected from that region is expected to be relatively young, giving scientists insight into what was going on with the Moon about 1.2 billion years ago. (For reference, the Apollo samples are thought to be about 3 billion to 4 billion years old.)
  • If the sampling goes well, it will make China just the third country — along with the former Soviet Union and U.S. — to bring samples from the Moon back to Earth.
  • The sample is expected to arrive back on Earth in mid-December, aiming for a landing in Inner Mongolia.

Background: China has launched a number of successful missions to the lunar surface in recent years.

  • The Chang'e-4 mission marked the first time a space agency had landed and operated a spacecraft on the far side of the Moon.
  • China eventually plans to send people to the lunar surface.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jan 12, 2021 - Science

Scientists discover 10 billion-year-old "super-Earth" planet

Artist's illustration of the planet TOI-561b. Image: W. M. Keck Observatory/Adam Makarenko

Scientists have discovered a rocky “super-Earth” planet in an ancient star system that likely formed 10 billion years ago, only a few billion years after our Milky Way galaxy came to be.

Why it matters: The newfound planet likely can't support life, but in general, researchers think older planetary systems have better odds of possibly harboring life because they're long-lived.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Health: Most vulnerable Americans aren't getting enough vaccine information — Fauci says Trump administration's lack of facts on COVID "very likely" cost lives.
  2. Politics: Biden unveils "wartime" COVID strategyBiden's COVID-19 bubble.
  3. Vaccine: Florida requiring proof of residency to get vaccine — CDC extends interval between vaccine doses for exceptional cases.
  4. World: Hong Kong to put tens of thousands on lockdown as cases surge.
  5. Sports: 2021 Tokyo Olympics hang in the balance.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Carbon Health's CEO on unsticking the vaccine bottleneck.

Trump impeachment trial to start week of Feb. 8, Schumer says

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: The Washington Post via Getty

The Senate will begin former President Trump's impeachment trial the week of Feb. 8, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Friday on the Senate floor.

The state of play: Schumer announced the schedule after reaching an agreement with Republicans. The House will transmit the article of impeachment against the former president late Monday.