Lunar orbiter snaps photos of Chinese lander and rover from 93 miles up

Before and after photos showing the Chang’e 3 lander on the surface of Mare Imbrium on Dec. 25, 2013. The “before” image was made on June 30. Can you spot the smaller Jade Rabbit “Yutu” rover nearby? Click to see large images. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Now you see it, now you don’t. Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains) has two new visitors that jump to life in this animation of before-and-after photographs taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

LRO’s orbit took it far from the landing site when Chang’e 3 first touched down on lunar soil on Dec. 14. Ten days later, when its orbit swung over the site, the spacecraft took six pairs of images during the next 36 hours.

The highest resolution pictures were shot early afternoon Christmas Day when it passed almost directly over the lander and rover at an altitude of 93 miles (150 km).

Chang’e 3 lander panorama [Images from CNSA; compiled by Di Lorenzo and Kremer] showing Yutu shortly after it drove down the ramp to the surface. Yellow lines connect craters seen in the panorama and the LROC image, red lines indicate approximate field of view of the panorama.

Since the rover is just under 5 feet (150 cm) long it’s amazing that it shows up as well as it does. There are two reasons for this: its highly reflective solar panels and the probe’s long shadow cast near the end of lunar day.

By plan or good fortune, the mission landed very near the border of two different lava flows on the mare. The redder, older flow solidified into rock 3.5 billion years ago; the blue flow is younger at 3 billion years and appears blue (less red in actuality) because it has a higher titanium content.  Both were once molten with the viscosity of motor oil as they flowed across the surface like black goo.

The rover and lander settled down on the younger lava flow, but the redder, older rock beckons just 6 miles (10 km) to the north. There’s also a 6-mile-wide (10 km) wrinkle ridge nearby. These sinuous lava ridges, created by faulting in the moon’s crust as the mare lavas cooled and settled, can wind for hundreds of miles. Yet another great place for Yutu to explore.

The Chang’e 3 landing site is very close to the contact between older reddish lavas in Mare Imbrium and younger, bluer lavas, making it a choice location for exploration. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Single shot of the Chang’e 3 lander (top arrow) and Yutu rover located a short distance to the right (east) of a 1,476-foot (450 meters) impact crater. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

 

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

13 thoughts on “Lunar orbiter snaps photos of Chinese lander and rover from 93 miles up

    • Hi Carol,
      Great question. I have not seen any scientific information shared yet on the Chinese sites except photos, where the rover has traveled and tidbits on hibernation and re-activation. Of course, they’re still getting their feet on the ground, so to speak.

      • OK, just wondering, as the conspiracies have started – the landing was a fake (sigh!), so that’s why we have no information….that sort of thing.

        I just can’t understand why people have this strange NEED to claim that this mission (along with the Apollo missions) were hoaxed.

        What’s wrong with people?

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