China’s wider opening-up to continue injecting impetus into global development Infographic: GT
People shop at a supermarket in Ankara, Türkiye, Dec. 11, 2023.(Photo: Xinhua)
Chinese players have accomplished one upset after another at the ongoing US Open.
In the hard-court tennis Grand Slam tournament, Zhang Zhizhen became the first man from the Chinese mainland to beat a player in the top five of the ATP rankings as he pulled off a resilient display of tennis skills to prevail against World No.5 Casper Ruud of Norway 6-4, 5-7, 6-2, 0-6, 6-2 on Wednesday night.
Thanks to his powerful serves (18 aces) and punishing forehand that overwhelmed Ruud with a whopping 60 winners overall, Zhang made it to the third round of the tournament, a new breakthrough in his personal career.
“That was a wild ride,” US Open official Twitter commented on Zhang’s surprise victory over the 2022 US Open runner-up. Rudd had been to the finals in three of the last six Grand Slam events.
The 26-year-old also avenged his loss to Rudd in the third round of the French Open in June. Zhang will face Rinky Hijikata of Australia in the third round. His opponent, Ruud, believes he can keep on going. “I was impressed, in a way, how he played,” Ruud said. “He’s going to be a threat for many years.”
“Last year at the US Open, I can say it was a bad memory. But this year is a little bit different,” said Zhang after the match.
“At the end of the match, when I finished the last point, I didn’t really celebrate, as if I was not super happy. But I was happy inside, it just didn’t show.”
Liu Yu, a Beijing-based sports commentator, told the Global Times that Zhang has been improving, especially after he hired Lu Yen-hsun, a retired player from Taiwan island, to join his team. Liu said he looks forward to seeing Zhang representing China at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
Should Zhang reach the fourth round, he will have a chance to become the first Chinese man to crack the Top 50 of the ATP Rankings.
Zhang is not the only Chinese that stunned a seeded player as Zhu Lin moved into the third round after breezing past Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-3, 6-3 in the women’s singles.
As the US announced its Middle East railway plan during the Group of 20 (G20) Summit over the weekend in India, Chinese experts expressed doubts about its credibility and feasibility, saying that it is not the first time for Washington to make empty pledges to various countries and regions.
The experts noted that the true purpose of the Biden administration is trying to “isolate China” in the Middle East, a region where Chinese cooperation with the region has constantly gained momentum in recent years.
The comment followed an announcement by US President Joe Biden and India regarding a multinational railway and port deal linking the Middle East and South Asia. The announcement came on Saturday on the sidelines of the G20 Summit.
Biden said it was a “real big deal” that would bridge ports across two continents and lead to a “more stable, more prosperous and integrated Middle East,” according to a Reuters report.
The idea of the rail and port network initially emerged at the I2U2 Business Forum, launched in 2021 by the US, India, Israel and the UAE to discuss infrastructure projects in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia joined the discussions later.
Zhou Rong, a senior researcher at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Saturday that the US lacks both the genuine intention and the capability to follow through on its pledge to build up the transportation network in the Middle East.
“It is not the first time that the US has been involved in a ‘much said, little done’ scenario,” Zhou said.
During the Obama administration, then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton announced that the US would sponsor a “New Silk Road” that would emerge from Afghanistan to link the country with its neighbors to increase its economic potential, but the initiative never materialized.
“The Biden administration’s Middle East infrastructure plan is an apparent effort to counter the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is entering its 10th year in 2023 with brought fruitful projects to partnering countries and regions. The Biden administration is again engaging in bloc politics in order to slow down China’s development,” Zhou said.
The recent moves by the US in the Middle East are more reactive than proactive, given China’s stronger presence, Liu Zhongmin, a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times on Saturday.
China has been engaging with the Middle East through the BRI for years. Its peacemaker role in the Saudi-Iran detente is lauded by the international community, the countries in the region in particular, which has injected stability into the region.
In areas such as infrastructure construction, cooperation between the Gulf countries and China has advanced significantly in recent years. “It is impossible for the US to create a hedge in the short term,” Liu said.
Zhou described the US plan as “more of a symbolic gesture.” From a technical perspective, the US decision to focus on transport infrastructure, an area where it lacks expertise, in a bid to salvage its declining influence in the region, suggests that the highly touted plan is unlikely to be realized.
“In terms of the technology and costs of building railways, no country in the world than China has a more prominent advantage. What the Middle Eastern countries want from the US is not just a railway, but also security. However, the US has neither provided nor been able to bring security to the region; instead, it has complicated the security situation there. This is the dilemma the US is facing in the Middle East,” Ding Long, a professor with the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times.
For Middle Eastern countries that will participate in the US-led railway initiative, there is no concern that their ties with China will weaken just because of the deal, instead, they will continue maintaining close cooperation with the world’s second-largest economy, Zhou said.
“In fact, the US’ ability to influence its allies in the Middle East is shrinking, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE have recently joined the BRICS cooperation mechanism. I think the two countries will exercise prudence in the issue,” Liu said.
“China welcomes all initiatives that can help pool synergy and promote global infrastructure development. Any calculation to advance geopolitics in the name of infrastructure development will win no support and will never succeed,” a spokesperson for Chinese Foreign Ministry said in June 2022 on the US’ plan to roll out a new infrastructure plan to counter the China-proposed BRI.
There are no such thing as different initiatives countering or replacing each other. The world needs more bridges to be built rather than torn down, more connectivity rather than decoupling or building fences, and mutual benefits rather than isolation and exclusion, the spokesperson said.
On August 30, 2021, with celebratory fireworks lighting up the Kabul night sky, the US completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan, ending its 20-year presence in the country after its October 2001 invasion. Afghanistan has had two years to explore its own path for development. How has the Afghan interim government performed in solving the problems in Afghanistan? And how have China-Afghanistan relations developed? Global Times reporters Liu Xin and Xing Xiaojing (GT) interviewed Zhao Haihan (Zhao), Chargé d’Affaires of the Chinese Embassy in Afghanistan, to get his views on these and other questions, for an exclusive report.
GT: How do you view the performance of the Afghan interim government, which has been in power for two years? How do you feel about being in Afghanistan?
Zhao: Since the establishment of the Afghan interim government two years ago, it has been committed to promoting national peace reconstruction and independent development, actively engaging in foreign exchanges and cooperation, and has taken a series of practical measures in areas such as economic development, corruption eradication, drug prohibition, improvement of people’s livelihoods, and social security, achieving certain results. The international community should give an objective and fair assessment.
The Chinese Embassy in Afghanistan staff has been stationed in Kabul. Over the last two years, especially this year, in our daily lives, we can feel that this country is gradually recovering. Economic and social development is slowly improving, prices and exchange rates are stable, and some infrastructure construction and large-scale energy and water projects are actively progressing, with trade with neighboring countries continuously developing.
In the reports by some Western media outlets, Afghanistan seems to be on the verge of economic collapse with starving bodies everywhere. But you will see completely different scenes if you visit major cities in Afghanistan: Daily necessities and supplies are basically available; there is a wide variety of food and vegetables, and the supply of electricity, communication, and fuel is also stable, with social order being well-maintained; the price of the staple food, naan, is less than 10 Afghanis (equivalent to 7 cents yuan), or even cheaper.
It is worth mentioning that the majority of the people and foreign diplomats believe that compared with two years ago, the overall security situation in Afghanistan has seen positive improvements, and people can now freely travel throughout the country, with an increase in foreign tourists. According to the Afghan Foreign Minister, there were about 70,000 foreign tourists visiting Afghanistan, including 10,000 from Europe, in 2022.
Afghanistan still faces many challenges at present. However, let’s not forget that this country has just experienced 20 years of war, is starting from scratch, and is a fragmented state. Its economic development heavily relies on foreign aid, and its per capita GDP has always been the lowest in the world.
The interim government of Afghanistan took over a mess and faced external economic blockades, financial sanctions, asset freezes, and other difficulties. Achieving these development results in just two years and maintaining national unity and overall stability is not easy.
GT: On May 6, during the 5th China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Trilateral Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue held in Pakistan, a joint statement was issued, clearly stating that terrorism and terrorist organizations including the “East Turkistan Islamic Movement” (ETIM), will not be tolerated. It was also the first time that the Afghan Taliban made a written commitment to not allow the “ETIM” and other forces to engage in terrorist activities. What is the current situation regarding the activities of ETIM members in Afghanistan, and what is the significance of this written commitment by the Afghan Taliban for the promotion of regional counter-terrorism and security cooperation?
Zhao: The “ETIM” is a terrorist organization listed by the United Nations Security Council and recognized by the Chinese government in accordance with the law. The forces of the “ETIM” based in Afghanistan still pose a serious threat to the security of China, Afghanistan, and the region. The “three forces” – terrorism, separatism and extremism, based in Afghanistan are also still major security threats to the region and even the world.
The Afghan interim government’s written commitment to not allow the “ETIM” and other forces to engage in terrorist activities is of great significance for the future development of China-Afghanistan relations and the promotion of regional counter-terrorism and security cooperation. China supports Afghanistan’s efforts to combat all forms of terrorism and violence and maintain national security and stability.
We hope that the Afghan side will effectively fulfill its commitments, take more effective measures, and resolutely combat all terrorist forces, including the “ETIM.”
China calls on the international community to firmly support Afghanistan in combating the “three forces,” support Afghanistan in taking active measures to cut off the financial channels of terrorism and combat the recruitment and cross-border movement of terrorists, and the dissemination of violent and terrorist audiovisual materials, curb extremism, youth radicalization, and the spread of terrorist ideology, and eradicate hidden terrorists and their hiding places.
China will also actively encourage the international community to strengthen bilateral and multilateral counter-terrorism and security cooperation, provide anti-terrorism materials, equipment, and technical assistance to Afghanistan, support Afghanistan in implementing comprehensive counterterrorism measures, address both the symptoms and root causes of terrorism, and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a haven, breeding ground, and source of terrorism again.
GT: China has always emphasized its support for peace, development, and a political solution to the Afghan issue. Could you please introduce China’s specific measures and future plans in assisting Afghanistan?
Zhao: The friendly bilateral cooperation between China and Afghanistan has always been a key factor in China’s unique role in the Afghan issue. The Afghan government and society have widely recognized that China is the only major country and neighboring country in history that has never bullied Afghanistan, and China has always pursued cooperation, assistance, and friendship with Afghanistan.
In the last two years, in order to avoid a humanitarian crisis, China has provided timely humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, including the provision of vaccines, medicines, and winter supplies, totaling 300 million yuan. In March 2022, China also provided 1 billion yuan in unconditional assistance to Afghanistan for humanitarian, educational, medical, and rural construction projects.
China has also provided a large amount of assistance to Afghanistan in the form of food, emergency supplies, earthquake relief, and through other means using channels such as the South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund, the Red Cross, local governments, and civil society, helping the Afghan people to cope with various crises.
At the same time, China’s assistance projects in Afghanistan, such as the building of Kabul University, vocational and technical education colleges, low-cost housing, and a hospital, have been successfully handed over or are about to resume construction. Personnel training and student exchange programs are also progressing in an orderly manner, cultivating a large number of talents in various fields in Afghanistan.
In terms of economic and trade cooperation, we have opened the “Pine Nuts Air Corridor,” granting Afghanistan 98 percent tariff-free treatment for products, restoring direct flights between China and Afghanistan, and promoting practical cooperation in major projects.
Currently, China and Afghanistan are actively exploring enhanced connectivity construction under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and negotiating to promote the export of more Afghan specialty agricultural products such as pomegranates, almonds, and apricots to China. All these practical measures are being taken to support the Afghan people’s economic development, income generation, and improvement of livelihoods through concrete actions.
GT: The Global Times launched a petition in February 2022 calling for the unconditional return of life-saving money to the Afghan people by the US, which has received a lot of attention. How do you view the Chinese public’s concern for the livelihood of the Afghan people? How do you think China and Afghanistan can further strengthen people-to-people exchanges and promote friendly cooperation?
Zhao: China and Afghanistan are traditional friendly neighbors, and the ancient Silk Road has closely connected the people of the two countries, with a long history of friendly exchanges. Both China and Afghanistan believe in the cultural concept of “a close neighbor is better than a distant relative” and have a fine tradition of mutual assistance.
Since significant changes have occurred in Afghanistan, the safety and wellbeing of the Afghan people have always concerned the Chinese people. Having grown and risen from hardship, the Chinese people deeply empathize with the suffering of the Afghan people and have always provided assistance and steadfast support in various ways to help them overcome their hardships. This is a continuation of the traditional spirit of solidarity and cooperation between the two peoples and a reflection of Chinese people’s pursuit of justice and the well-being of the world.
The relationship between countries lies in the affinity between their people. Today, with the overall situation in Afghanistan transitioning from chaos to stability and the complete dispersal of the shadow of the COVID-19 epidemic, people-to-people exchanges between China and Afghanistan are ushering in new opportunities.
China will continue to uphold the principles of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit, and inclusiveness in its neighborhood diplomacy, and carry out more pragmatic cooperation with Afghanistan in various fields. Together with the Afghan people, China will continuously consolidate the foundation of popular support for friendly relations between the two countries and work hand in hand to build a China-Afghanistan community of shared future.
GT: Can you give more examples of the close and friendly cooperation between China and Afghanistan?
Zhao: The friendly cooperation between China and Afghanistan is reflected in various aspects, for example, in the smooth communication and cooperation between our foreign ministries.
I remember one time when we wanted to have face-to-face exchanges with senior officials from various departments of the Afghan interim government regarding some cooperation issues. After receiving our request, the Afghan side quickly arranged for our ambassador to Afghanistan to meet with the acting prime minister and six cabinet ministers within a week. All the protocol arrangements were seamless, efficient, and smooth. Some foreign embassy colleagues heard about this and couldn’t help but admire that only Chinese diplomats could receive such treatment.
Furthermore, the Afghan people have great enthusiasm for learning Chinese. We often encounter fluent Chinese speakers among the Afghan people at airports and other public places. This includes not only students from Confucius Institutes and those who have studied in China, but also many ordinary people who have self-studied Chinese and hope to engage in trade and tourism in China in the future.
GT: At the Central Asia Summit in May, Chinese leaders emphasized the role of platforms such as the Afghanistan Neighboring Countries Coordination Mechanism in promoting Afghanistan’s path to reconstruction. In terms of promoting peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan, what specific diplomatic efforts and cooperation methods will China adopt?
Zhao: As a close neighbor and sincere friend to Afghanistan, China hopes for peace and stability in Afghanistan more than any other country. China has built platforms, created conditions, and contributed Chinese wisdom and solutions to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan, earning unanimous praise from the Afghan people and the international community.
Especially after significant changes in the Afghan situation, China advocated for the establishment of the Afghanistan neighboring countries coordination mechanism, leveraging the advantages of neighboring countries to consolidate regional consensus and cooperation, and played a constructive role in ensuring a smooth transition in the Afghan situation.
Currently, Afghanistan is at a critical juncture of transitioning from chaos to stability, with challenges and opportunities, and difficulties and hopes all coexisting. As a builder of world peace, contributor to global development, preserver of international order, and a friendly neighbor to Afghanistan, China will continue to provide assistance within its capabilities for Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development.
China will fulfill its aid commitments to Afghanistan, steadily promote economic and trade investment cooperation, actively engage in cooperation in areas such as healthcare, poverty alleviation, agriculture, and disaster prevention and reduction, deepen cooperation in jointly building the BRI, support Afghanistan in leveraging its geographical advantages to integrate into regional economic cooperation and connectivity, transform from a landlocked country to a land-linked country, and help Afghanistan emerge from the shadows of war and regain its ancient Silk Road glory.
At the same time, we will continue to uphold justice and advocate for the Afghan people in the international community, urging relevant countries, as the initiators of the Afghan issue, to learn from their mistakes, face the severe humanitarian, economic, and security risks and challenges in Afghanistan, immediately lift sanctions on Afghanistan, return Afghan overseas assets, and fulfill their commitments to humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.
GT: What are your expectations for the future of Afghanistan?
Zhao: Afghanistan is a brilliant pearl on the ancient Silk Road, which has created a splendid and glorious culture and made unique contributions to the exchanges and mutual learning of different civilizations between the East and the West, as well as the progress and development of human civilization.
However, due to its important geographical location, known as the “heart of Asia,” it has always been a strategic place for the great powers to compete, and its fate has been tumultuous. For a long time, Afghanistan has suffered from the ravages of war and turmoil, and its people have experienced hardships, causing this pearl to be repeatedly covered in dust.
Afghan people are diligent and kind, just like we the Chinese, and they are constantly striving for self-improvement. Afghans often mention that they have defeated three superpowers in a hundred years, which makes its nickname, the graveyard of empires, well deserved.
Nowadays, with the withdrawal of foreign troops, the Afghan people have ushered in an opportunity to truly control their own destiny and enter into a new era of independence, peace, and development.
In our contacts with Afghan officials, we can clearly feel their strong sense of national pride and their desire to change the fate of their country through development. They often say that today’s Afghanistan is very similar to the new China of more than 70 years ago. They have driven away foreign aggressors and opened a new chapter in national construction.
However, there is still much to be done, and the road ahead is long. They lack experience and capabilities, so they strongly hope to deepen cooperation with China, their thousand-year neighbor, learn from China’s governance experience, and achieve lasting peace and prosperity with China’s help.
As an unwavering friendly neighbor, China will continue to support Afghanistan’s independent and self-reliant development and make positive contributions to its prosperity and the promotion of regional peace and stability.
If the interim government of Afghanistan can seize the opportunity, further open up and engage in inclusive governance, pursue moderate and stable policies, and actively explore a modern development model that suits the Afghan national conditions, it is entirely possible to lead the Afghan people onto the path of peaceful reconstruction and prosperous development. I personally have confidence in this.
On September 20th, walking into the rice field painting scenic area of Yong’an Town, in the Kenli District of Dongying City, Shandong Province, the theme of “rural revitalization, agricultural power” and “cultivation of the farmland” came into view. The paddy fields, paths and the colorful rice intertwine and complement each other, creating a scene of good harvest.
The paddy painting landscape creative base reportedly covers an area of 13,000 acres and promotes the integrated development of agriculture and tourism by combining creative agriculture and leisure tourism. At present, during the best viewing period of rice field paintings, the staff of the State Grid Dongying Power Supply Company has strengthened the publicity of safe electricity use in scenic areas, inspected the operation of equipment such as power distribution lines and observation tower lighting facilities in scenic spots, and ensured the safe and reliable electricity consumption for tourists during peak viewing periods.
Kenli District of Dongying City is located at the estuary of the Yellow River. In recent years, the region has relied on its rich saline-alkali land resources, developing characteristic industries according to local conditions, and has gone all out to build a “Rice and Crab Symbiotic Planting” within the rural revitalization demonstration area. The State Grid Dongying Power supply company, regularly docks with the governmental development planning and electricity demand according to seasonal planting, periodically provides on-site guidance for enterprises on rice seedlings optimization, processing and electricity consumption plans, and coordinates the construction of supporting power facilities such as line transformation and well electrification to help industrial development.
Each year, during the rice field painting exhibition, a tailor-made “one household, one policy” power supply service plan is provided for important customers, with regular inspection of lines and equipment, prompt elimination of safety hazards in electricity facilities, fully meeting the needs of the development of agricultural and industrial tourism integration, and injecting strong momentum for a rural revitalization supplied with sufficient electricity.
Pinky and The Brain‘s smarts might not be so far-fetched. Some mice are quicker on the uptake than others. While it might not lead to world domination, wits have their upside: a better shot at staying alive.
Biologists Audrey Maille and Carsten Schradin of the University of Strasbourg in France tested reaction time and spatial memory in 90 African striped mice (Rhabdomys pumilio) over the course of a summer. For this particular wild rodent, surviving harsh summer droughts means making it to mating season in the early fall.
The team saw some overall trends: Females were more likely to survive if they had quick reflexes, and males were more likely to survive if they had good spatial memory. Cognitive traits like reacting quickly and remembering the best places to hide are key to eluding predators during these tough times but may come with trade-offs for males and females. The results show that an individual mouse’s cognitive strengths are linked to its survival odds, suggesting that the pressure to survive can shape basic cognition, Maille and Schradin write August 3 in Biology Letters.
X-rays were the iPhone 7 of the 1890s. Months after X-rays were discovered in late 1895, German physicist Walter Koenig put the latest in tech gadgetry to the test by scanning 14 objects, including the mummified remains of an ancient Egyptian child. Koenig’s image of the child’s knees represented the first radiographic investigation of a mummy.
At the time, details on the mummy itself were scant. Originally collected by explorer-naturalist Eduard Rueppell in 1817, the specimen lacked any sort of decoration that might link it to a particular dynasty or time period. Koenig’s X-ray image of the mummy served less to fill in any of those blanks and more to demonstrate the technology’s potential. Since then, radiographic images have revealed hidden artifacts, elucidated embalming techniques and even pinpointed health issues and diseases in mummies.
Now, biological anthropologist and Egyptologist Stephanie Zesch of the Reiss Engelhorn Museum in Mannheim, Germany, and colleagues have examined the mummy with modern imaging techniques. CT scans show that the child was a boy. His teeth suggest that he was 4 to 5 years old when he died. Radiocarbon dating places him in the Ptolemaic period, between 378 and 235 B.C., the researchers report online July 22 in the European Journal of Radiology Open.
The team also diagnosed a slew of health conditions: a common chest wall deformity called pectus excavatum, or sunken chest; bone density marks called Harris lines in his leg bones that indicate physiological stress; and an enlarged liver. The team attributes the distended liver to a parasitic infection like schistosomiasis, which is common in Egypt and sometimes lethal. Without any obvious signs of trauma, however, “it’s impossible to determine cause of death,” Zesch says.
Even with the all-seeing power of today’s CT scans, the culprit behind the boy’s demise remains under wraps.
A bird in laser goggles has helped scientists discover a new phenomenon in the physics of flight.
Swirling vortices appear in the flow of air that follows a bird’s wingbeat. But for slowly flying birds, these vortices were unexpectedly short-lived, researchers from Stanford University report December 6 in Bioinspiration and Biomimetics. The results could help scientists better understand how animals fly, and could be important for designing flying robots (SN: 2/7/15, p. 18).
To study the complex air currents produced by birds’ flapping wings, the researchers trained a Pacific parrotlet, a small species of parrot, to fly through laser light — with the appropriate eye protection, of course. Study coauthor Eric Gutierrez, who recently graduated from Stanford, built tiny, 3-D‒printed laser goggles for the bird, named Obi.
Gutierrez and colleagues tracked the air currents left in Obi’s wake by spraying a fine liquid mist in the air, and illuminating it with a laser spread out into a two-dimensional sheet. High-speed cameras recorded the action at 1,000 frames per second.
The vortex produced by the bird “explosively breaks up,” says mechanical engineer David Lentink, a coauthor of the study. “The flow becomes very complex, much more turbulent.” Comparing three standard methods for calculating the lift produced by flapping wings showed that predictions didn’t match reality, thanks to the unexpected vortex breakup.
The infant moon may have had a thick metal atmosphere, where supersonic winds raised waves in its magma ocean.
That’s the conclusion of a new simulation that calculates how heat from the young sun, the Earth and the moon’s own hot surface could have vaporized lunar metals to give the moon an atmosphere as thick as Mars’. The model, reported online June 22 at arXiv.org, offers a way to test theories of how the moon formed and suggests how researchers could study exoplanets without leaving Earth’s own neighborhood.
Most planetary scientists think the moon formed when a Mars-sized protoplanet slammed into the Earth around 4.5 billion years ago. The collision threw hot, molten material into Earth’s orbit, which coalesced and eventually cooled into the moon.
At first, though, the moon would have been covered in a deep, global ocean of hot liquid rock. The postcollision Earth would have been blisteringly hot as well — upwards of 2000° Celsius — and would have glowed like a red dwarf star.
Prabal Saxena of NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and colleagues added up the radiation the early moon would have received from that starlike Earth, plus the sun and the magma ocean itself. Previous models had suggested the early moon should have an atmosphere, but the team believes its model is the first to include all those inputs at once, revealing fresh details about how the atmosphere and ocean may have interacted.
All of that radiation would have vaporized volatile atoms in the metal-rich magma ocean and formed an atmosphere about one-tenth the thickness of Earth’s, the model showed. To keep things simple, the team used sodium — an easily vaporized element that is abundant on the moon — to represent all the components that could contribute to an atmosphere.
As long as the molten ocean remained liquid, the atmosphere would have received freshly vaporized sodium atoms from the ocean and sent them whipping through the metallic air. An extreme temperature difference — the side of the moon facing Earth would have been heated to temperatures greater than 1700° and the farside would have chilled to a frigid ‒150° — would have raised winds with speeds over a kilometer per second. The winds would probably have blown waves in the magma ocean.
When the winds reached the twilight zone between hot and cold, the atmosphere would have condensed, leaving a band of sodium snow.
After about 1,000 years, the magma ocean would have cooled enough to solidify into a rocky crust. Without a liquid reservoir to draw from, the entire atmosphere would have collapsed.
“The moon’s atmosphere was like a hard-partying rock star,” Saxena says. “It had a really violent, heavy metal existence, but it rapidly just fell apart.”
Kevin Zahnle of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., thinks this live fast, die young picture of the lunar atmosphere sounds plausible, and might be testable. “Their story is well within the bounds of the possible,” he says. But he’s not sure all of the model’s assumptions are good ones. Both Earth and the moon would have had to be “exceedingly dry” to avoid developing steamy water atmospheres first, for instance.
One way to test the model would be to look for a ring of extra sodium in the rocks around the transition zone. That would show that the atmosphere really did have an extreme temperature gradient and high winds.
Other models of the moon’s formation — for instance, if it formed from several small impacts instead of a single large one — would lead to a cooler atmosphere, less strong winds and ultimately no sodium snow, Saxena says. Finding that extra sodium could help settle the debate about which kind of impact really happened (SN: 4/15/17, p.18).
With its proximity to an Earth that glowed like a star, the early moon could also be a good analog for rocky exoplanets orbiting red dwarfs, Saxena says.
“If we can characterize what the early moon looked like, it can tell us about the physical mechanisms that are operating on these close-in extreme exoplanets,” Saxena says.