China’s Amazing Landing On The Far Side Of The Moon

A wonderful view of the Yutu-2 rover — Jade Rabbit in English — taken earlier today after it left the lander ramp and rolled to the edge of a nearby crater on the far side of the moon. What a barren place, eh? CNSA

China became the first country to make a successful soft-landing on the far side of the moon this week. The Chang’e 4 spacecraft touched down in Von Kármán crater  at 8:26 p.m. CST on Jan. 2 (Jan. 3 Beijing time). Chang’e 4 entered orbit on Dec. 8 but had to wait for the sun to rise at the landing site. Mission control used the time to check and run tests on the craft. The landing was “smooth” and “precise” according to the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA).

This is one of the first color photos taken by the Chang’e 4 lander on Jan. 3. CNSA

Hours later, the Jade Rabbit-2 lunar rover rolled down a ramp and began a first survey of its surroundings. The six-wheeled rover is 5 feet (1.5 meters) long and about 3.3 feet (1 meter) wide and tall and sports two foldable solar panels which it will use to power itself during the coming days. Sunshine there is intense at the moment because the far side is currently in full moon phase. Lunar phases on the near side are opposite to those on the far side — for us back on Earth the moon is just one day from new.

Chang’e 4 will stay in touch with Earth through a relay satellite at the L2 Earth-Moon Langrange point,  a stable orbital “parking spot” 37,300 miles (60,000 km) beyond the moon that looks down on the far side. The first photos taken by the lander show a crunchy, dusty regolith (lunar soil) and a small crater not far from the lander that adds a scenic dimension to the view. The color in the photos should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s overly yellow-brown — the moon’s true color is closer to gray.


Nice little explainer and simulation of the far side landing

Jade Rabbit-2 has a panoramic camera that can swivel 360°, so we should be seeing some sweet imagery soon. It’s also equipped with ground-penetrating radar to probe many feet below the surface. Both rover and lander have spectrographs for measuring the composition of the lunar soil and trace gases in the moon’s near-vacuum atmosphere. Another instrument will examine how the solar wind — the continuous stream of particles from the sun — interacts with the regolith.

The rover rolls off the ramp for its first reconnaissance of the lunar far side. CNSA

Tucked inside the lander is a box with a sealed “biosphere” filled with seeds and insect eggs to test whether the two can sprout, hatch and grow together. A tiny camera will record the progress of the mini ecosystem, the purpose of which is to see if a closed life support system can thrive on an extended mission to space.

According to the CNSA, the Yutu-2 rover and lander will experience extremely high temperatures during the next few days and will have to placed in “napping” mode. Remember, it’s full moon there right now with a high sun and extreme temperatures. Operations will resume next Thursday when the sun drops lower in the lunar sky. For occasional Twitter updates click #Change4 or @Echinanews.

Future moon landings will include a Chang’e 6 sample return mission in 2019 to gather 4.4 pounds (2 kg) of lunar dust and rocks from near Mons Rümker, a massive volcanic dome on the near side. The ultimate objective is to land Chinese astronauts called taikonauts on the moon sometime between 2025 and 2030.

7 Responses

  1. kevan hubbard

    Indeed it is barren but no more so than the near side.must take some planning to land on the far side as there are very few flat seas.if I recall the Moscow Sea is the largest, I exclude ones like the eastern sea of which parts can,just,be seen from Earth at the very edge.it looks sharp and craggy put like the near side is probably more rounded than it looks due to the constant impact of solar and cosmic radiation.

  2. Hey Bob. Great post. NASA Martian landers have included something like a Secchi disk as a color reference point. Does the Chang’e lander use something similar? Or is the color of the Chang’e photos an artifact of processing? Initially I wondered if the Moon’s far side really had a different tint since it was away from Earth. The far side does have markedly different topography with more craters & no maria, right?

    1. astrobob

      Jason,
      Has to be an artifact. They probably just didn’t color-correct them yet. The far side has the same color as the near. It just has more highlands and fewer maria. The highlands on the near side are shades of gray.

  3. Edward M. Boll

    Been out looking for Wirtanen again. Getting a little more difficult. I think that I will lay low on it for at least a couple days and try to find it again before the Moon takes over. As we beat the Russians to the Moon, I think that it is about time to go back, actually about 40 years over time and this time beat the Chinese to the Moon.

  4. thomas

    Already some wild skeptics are referencing the “brown” color of the regolith in these pictures to advance their paranoia about lunar landing hoaxes. I guess it’s a valid question though, is there any reason why the Chinese optics don’t show the same colors as we’ve seen from the Apollo missions and landings? Maybe the Chinese lander wasn’t equipped with HI DEF cameras? Or maybe the regolith at the landing site is a darker color?

    1. astrobob

      Thomas,
      The images just haven’t been color-corrected yet as I mentioned in the blog. Not sure why but early images from space missions often aren’t at first probably because it takes time to calibrate. The early Chang’e 3 mission photos were also orange.

      1. Troy

        If you think about it, the first images can’t be color corrected, they need to return the image of the color reference first. Obviously the first images are just going to verify the site and the landing area, before minutia like imaging a color reference.

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