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).
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.