New Chang’e 4 Photos Reveal The Stark Beauty Of The Far Side Of The Moon


Watch Chang’e 4 land on far side of the moon on January 2, 2019. Things start to heat up at the 4-minute mark and again at 5 minutes. 5,419 single images were combined to create the video. CNSA, CLEP and Doug Ellison

China’s lunar lander Chang’e 4 and Yutu-2 rover celebrated their first anniversary on the moon’s far side earlier this month. On Monday (Jan. 20) the Chinese National Space Administration (CNES) released a ton of new photos, a sampling of which are included here. The lander and rover have completed 13 lunar days on the moon, where a single day lasts 29.5 Earth days.

The Yutu-2 rover took this photo of the Chang’e 4 lander. The ramp the rover drove to the surface is visible along with the rover’s tracks in the lunar soil called regolith. Click to enlarge. CNES / processed by Doug Ellison

Yes, that’s more than two weeks of daylight followed by two weeks of night. If you were an astronaut there, the sun would rise and take about week to reach its highest point in the sky and then another week to set. Two weeks later it would rise again. The moon has such a long day because it rotates more than 27 times slower than the Earth. Long days and nights — with no atmosphere or water to soften the blow — means the temperature of the lunar surface varies from 260° F (–127° C) in the daytime to –280° F (–173°) at night.

This stitched photo view from the lander shows the rover (right) and its tracks. Click to enlarge. CNES / processed by Doug Ellison

Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 awoke to their 14th day in Von Kármán Crater located near the moon’s south pole on January 18 and 19, respectively. Both have far exceeded their expected lifetimes of three Earth months with all systems still in good health. Between them they’re bristling with cameras and instruments to photograph lunar features and panoramas, study the chemical composition of moon rocks and soil, carry out radio telescope observations of the sky and determine what’s under the surface using ground-penetrating radar.

View looking back at the Chang’e 4 lander (upper left) taken by the rover’s panoramic camera. Click to enlarge. CNES / processed by Doug Ellison

Because the probes are located on the moon’s far side, they can’t send data directly back to the Earth but must use an orbiting relay satellite which transmits the data for them. China has grand plans for lunar exploration including the Chang’e 5 sample-return mission that will launch later this year. If successful it would be the first to return lunar material since the 1976, when the Soviet Union’s Lunar 24 mission scooped up six ounces (more than 170 grams) of soil. A small portion of the precious dust was shared with NASA.

This close up photo of moon rocks will help you imagine what it might be like to walk around up there. Looks a lot like my driveway after a fresh delivery of gravel. Click to enlarge. CNES / processed by Mark Ellison

Want to see 40 more photos in stunning detail? Check out Doug Ellison’s Chang’e 4 / Yutu-2 pages 1 and 2.

This stitched image shows a “fisheye” type view of the lander (center) and the rover. Click to enlarge. CNES / processed by Doug Ellison