Dramatic photos of Yutu lunar rover and lander from 164,000 feet

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped this photo of the Chang’e 3 site from 31 miles up on Feb. 17. The Yutu rover’s tracks can be followed clockwise around the lander to its current location. Image width about 656 feet (200-m). Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Instead of photos taken by China’s lunar rover Yutu and Chang’e 3 lander, we’re going to look at images taken of them by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). The orbiter’s amazing camera and 31-mile-high orbit enables fantastic resolution of the moon’s surface. Consider that the lander measures only 4.9 feet (1.5-m) across and yet it – and the smaller rover – stand out clearly against the rugged moonscape.

Animation of the above four LROC NAC images (short for Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, Narrow Angle Camera). Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

LRO photographed the scene on Dec. 25, 2013 and again on Jan. 21 and Feb. 17 this year. You can see how the lighting changed between the photographs in the animation which also includes a view of the landing site taken July 2009 before the probe arrived.

Here you can relate the “on the ground” perspective taken by the Chang’e 3 lander with the orbital view by LRO. Credit: CNSA (top) and NASA

You can clearly see the rover’s track around the Chang’e 3 lander. During its first lunar day, it rolled off the lander and drove to the right in a clockwise direction; by the end of the first day, equal to about two Earth weeks, Yutu had traveled approximately 100 feet (30 meters) south of the lander.

LRO slewed 54 degrees to the east on Feb. 16, 2014, to allow the LROC instrument to snap a dramatic oblique view of the Chang’e 3 site (arrow). Crater in front of lander is about 1,476 feet (450 m) in diameter. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

After the two-week lunar night, Yutu woke up at sunrise and drove an additional 56 feet (17 meters) back toward the lander. At the onset of the next night it developed problems folding in its solar panels, preventing the rover from keeping its equipment warm during long and bitter cold night. If that wasn’t enough, a mechanical problem now prevents it from moving. Yet somehow Yutu’s camera and several other instruments still work.

Or they did. We’ll soon find out when Chinese mission control wakes up the lander and rover to open their 4th lunar day sometime on March 10-11.

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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.

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