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.
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.
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.
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.