All A-OK As China’s Yutu Rover Wheels Onto Moon’s Surface

The lunar surface photographed by the Chang’e 3 lander shortly after arrival yesterday morning. A crater with rocky debris is seen at top. Click to enlarge. Credit: CCTV
High quality, science camera photo of the Yutu rover taken by one of the lander’s cameras. Credit: CCTV

I’m getting a little of that old Apollo feeling all over again watching the Chinese rover Yutu carefully “step” down the lander ramp and roll onto the moon’s surface. The crew at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in China must have been holding their breath for minutes as Yutu inched its way to down the ramp and left its first impressions in the lunar dust.

Animation showing the deployment of the Yutu rover down a ramp attached to the lander. Credit: CCTV

Just a quick “so far, so good” update today mostly to share photos and video. The landing site looks just about perfect in that it appears flat and uncluttered by boulders that may have posed a hazard on landing. Ahead of the lander, a modest crater surrounded by what appears to be rocky impact ejecta looks like a tempting target for exploration.

Watch the rover separate from the lander in more detail in this longer video clip. Separation begins about 3 1/2 minutes in. Credit: CCTV

China’s moon mission is the first by any country since the Soviet Union’s Lunar 24 sample-return mission in 1976. When you go out tonight and gaze up at the almost-full moon, look near the top center and picture the rover in your mind’s eye already at work taking pictures of its new home in Sinus Iridium the Bay of Rainbows.

The Bay of Rainbows region is easily found on tonight’s nearly full moon. The red dot shows the lander’s location. Credit: Bob King
The “Jade Rabbit” separates from the lander. Photo taken from the monitor screen at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing, China. Credit: Xinhua/ Li Xin

16 Responses

  1. Richard Keen

    If they had a drill on it to make holes on the moon they could have named it “White Rabbit” instead of “Jade Rabbit”.
    But a moon rover named Rabbit of any type is really neat!

      1. Richard Keen

        Bob, on today’s there’s an article about discovery of a new crater in Mare Imbrium (site of the Chang’e landing) created by an observed impact flash back in March. Pity it wasn’t found a few weeks ago; perhaps the Jade Rabbit could have been redirected to land in this new hole in the ground, earning the name White Rabbit. It could have done some some amazing science in that hole, too!

  2. ed Verdi

    Will the rabbit turn its cam to show earth? Will it explore areas of old Apollo missions… ie debris, old lunar buggy, trash, the flag??? Would it b possible to shoot a color laser beam towards earth for us to see? Why does the space station not have means to see surface of moon?

    1. astrobob

      The ultraviolet telescope will definitely photograph Earth. As for the rover and landers cameras, I’m hopeful but I don’t know for certain. The probe won’t be exploring Apollo landing sites – the nearest is Apollo 15 in the Apennine Mts. over 600 miles away. I suppose it might be possible to shoot an extremely powerful laser back at Earth, but there are no plans to do so. The probes aren’t equipped with such a device. Not even the Hubble Space Telescope can see lunar probes on the moon. Hubble can only see objects on the moon if they’re 300 feet across of bigger. None of the Apollo stuff is anywhere near that big. Any telescope on the space station would be MUCH smaller, so no, they can’t follow the rover mission either. What CAN see the Chines rover-lander is NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter which can orbit the moon very closely. There are plans for the orbiter to photograph the lander-rover.

      1. Richard Keen

        Iridium base here… the Rabbit has landed!
        I hope the bunny is still working in April, and on three more occasions over the next two years. There’s four total lunar eclipses in 2014-2015, known as total solar eclipses to the eye of the Rabbit. Surveyor III took some neat, but low resolution, shots of an eclipse in 1967. It hasn’t been done from the ground of the moon since.

        1. astrobob

          Great thought. Imagine – the Chinese could do video of it. How could they pass up the chance? By the way, Kaguya did a nice job of an eclipse from orbit. Have you seen it?

          1. Richard Keen

            The Kaguya video is great:
            Along with the Surveyor pictures, I show it in power points I give about lunar eclipses (something I’ve done some science on).
            The Kaguya eclipse is actually a double eclipse: as the sun emerges from behind the earth, the whole show emerges from behind the moon. An eclipse of an eclipse.
            Another thing I’d give all my chocolates for to see in person!

          2. astrobob

            That’s right about Kaguya – the Earth’s just rising from behind the limb. I’ve got to believe the Chinese won’t miss these opportunities.

  3. Giorgio Rizzarelli

    Congratulations Chang’e 3 and Yutu! I got a bit of “Apollo” thrill too, also because other lunar missions will follow, by other countries and private. It’s exactly 40 years since the last lunar rover, in 1973. It will be interesting to see the Moon shot from surface with new technology, as it’s from orbit with LRO. Today’s cameras are different than 70’s. Already that picture of the soil, brown instead of the grey we used to see in 70s, is fresh and conveys a message of a rather earthly surface. After all the Moon partly comes from Earth.

    1. astrobob

      It sure makes me optimistic too. As for the soil color, the early photo showing brown soil was shot off a monitor and I’m sure is not the correct color. The hi-res image has a more accurate color, but still a bit too yellow. I suspect the color balance is off. The Apollo astronauts shot lots of high quality color images of the moon’s surface with Hasselblad cameras. Mostly it appears gray but there are some exceptions like the “red volcanic beads” photo.

      1. billy

        The darker color in the tracks would seem to suggest moisture, no? It’s the first thing that struck me when I saw the image.

        1. astrobob

          Wish it was, but no. That’s what disturbed soil looks like on the moon and Mars too for that matter. While the moon has some water, it’s mostly bound up in minerals and not available as moisture. Anything moist on the moon would vaporize in the non-existent air pressure.

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