Chang’e-1 shoots the Moon

By Phil Plait | November 26, 2007 4:59 pm

The Chinese Moon probe Chang’e-1 has returned its first picture of the Moon!

That’s pretty cool! I wish I could tell you more, but the press release is in Chinese, and I’m a bit rusty.

It’s funny with these Moon images being sent to us by Chang’e-1 and Kaguya; they don’t look any different than what you can see through a telescope! But that’s an illusion of sorts, caused by two things.

One is that these images aren’t generally displayed at full resolution. They might really be thousands of pixels across, but they don’t want to put a huge 100Mb file online. Hubble images are like that, which is why I down-res them and link to the higher-res versions.

The other reason is that the Moon is a weird place. It’s been hopelessly battered from billions of years of bombardment from asteroids and comets. There are so many craters on its surface that it’s saturated with them; literally, a new crater formed is likely to wipe out several craters at the same time. Also, without air, a crater can be formed from the impact of a basketball-sized rock as well as one the size of a city. So you get craters of all sizes on the Moon, and without any sort of scale to the pictures it’s hard to tell how big they are. A picture taken from Apollo when the lander was 1000 meters up looks an awful lot like one taken from lunar orbit, even though the size scales are vastly different. There are some structural differences in craters of different sizes, but to the untrained eye they all look about the same.

Anyway, on the press release image there is a scale bar, but it’s small and fuzzy. I think it’s saying that the image itself covers about 200 x 300 km of the Moon. In that case, the pixel size is very roughly half a kilometer per pixel, which is about what you can do from Earth using fancy imaging techniques… and the actual data will have a higher resolution (160 meters per pixel when all is said and done).

I certainly hope they release more detailed images as time goes on. We’re entering a new age of lunar exploration, and there’s a whole lot more to learn about our nearest neighbor in the sky.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures
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Comments (47)

  1. use google translate for space’s sake!
    here’s the page in english: http://tinyurl.com/26agbo

  2. 01101001

    China.org.cn: China publishes 1st moon picture (English)
    http://www.china.org.cn/english/China/233069.htm

    “The area covered by the picture, about 460 kilometers in length and 280 km in width, is located within a 54 to 70 degrees south latitude and 57 to 83 degrees east longitude, according to BACC sources”

  3. tacitus

    The good news is that the Chinese have agreed to share data from the mission with the rest of the world.

  4. M. L. Green

    …..except for the minor discovery of a completely black object whose dimensions are 1 by 4 by 9. They’ll no doubt get back to us on that later!!

  5. dkary

    You can actually tell something about the scale on moon images, even if there it’s just a bunch of impact craters (and M.L Green’s mysterious rectangular object, whose scale isn’t known).

    The reason is that craters change depending on their sizes. The small ones are simple bowl shapes. As you look at larger ones (over a few hundred meters) a wall develops. At still larger sizes (generally over 10 km across, if I remember the numbers correctly), they have flatter bottoms (there are many good examples of this in the new picture).

    Bigger still, we see central mountains develop, and the walls get terraced because the they start to slump under their own gravity. Of course, the really big ones (hundreds of km across) have concentric rings and on the near side they’re typically filled with dark basalt.

    So, pictures of the Moon aren’t quite as scale-free as Phil is indicating here.

  6. Chip

    You can get a rough translation if you copy and paste the URL address at http://www.google.com. Select “Lanuage tools” and then under “Translate a web page” enter the URL address and select “Chinese to English”.

  7. Chip

    That’s “Language tools” in Google. 😉

  8. The black object is the WMD. The US will invade the moon shortly.

  9. I know most of you have seen these things before, but I took a picture around halloween that i thought came out really well.

    http://www.squidzone.ca/photos/uncategorized/2007/10/28/moon_27oct07_2.jpg

    Just a digital camera and a 200mm telephoto.

  10. MandyDax

    Copy/Paste from the Google Translation:

    [National Space Agency Network’s] November 26, the State Aerospace Bureau will formally announce the Chang’e-1 satellite transmitted back to the first piece of facial images, marking China’s first lunar exploration project to a successful conclusion.
    China’s first lunar exploration program, the first of facial images from the Chang’e-1 satellite is the three-dimensional CCD camera obtained. Using linear array CCD camera pushed the sweeping acquire images with an orbital altitude of about 200 km, on the surface of each track width of 60 km, the pixel resolution of 120 m. China’s first on-site images were produced by the 19-track form images in table on the east longitude 83 degrees east longitude 57 degrees south latitude 70 degrees south latitude 54 degrees, map width of about 280 km, about 460 km. Map in the right side 60 km wide band CCD camera is the first rail access to boot image.

       As China’s own development and launch of the first lunar probe, Chang’e-1 satellite on October 24 from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center by LM-3-A carrier rocket successfully launched, after eight swing, in the November 7 officially entered work orbit. After-board equipment debugging, November 18 satellites on to the directional gesture, November 20 started back to analyze the data, after the completion of its first deal with the production of images on a site at the same time and completed a three-dimensional image produced.

      State Aerospace Bureau, the official said, in the next one year, the Chang’e-1 satellite will continue to analyze the data sent back to various. Data After being handled, will be made available to scientists for research.

  11. M. L. Green says: “…..except for the minor discovery of a completely black object whose dimensions are 1 by 4 by 9. They’ll no doubt get back to us on that later!!”

    I thought they discovered that on Europa.

    – Jack

  12. dkary says: “[snip] So, pictures of the Moon aren’t quite as scale-free as Phil is indicating here.]

    Well, he did say to the “untrained eye.” Your eye belies your training.

    – Jack

  13. ARU

    Finally! The underdog theory that the moon is a giant target for asteroid and comet collisions has been confirmed! Wait…is this not the 1930s?

    Nice pic, though.

  14. I’m far from a native speaker, but here’s a translation of it that should be better than Google’s, which is a pretty awful translation (as is to be expected of a machine translation of two languages as different as English and Chinese:

    China announces Chang’e 1’s first moon images transmitted back

    Time: November 26, 2007 {text size links}

    [China National Space Administration Network] On November 26, the CNSA formally announced the first image transmitted back from the Chang’e 1 satellite. This marks China’s first successful lunar exploration project.

    The project’s first image is from the Chang’e 1 satellite’s three-dimensional CCD camera. The CCD camera uses line of sensors to sweep an image. Orbiting at about 200km, Each track is 60km wide, with a resolution of 120m. China’s first image was made of 19 tracks altogether. Taken from 83º to 57º East longitude and 70º to 54º South latitutude, the image is 460km long and 280km wide. A 60km strip on the photograph’s right was the starting track.

    Regarded as our coutry’s first autonomously produced and launched lunar probe, the Chang’e 1 satellite was successfully launched from Xichang satellite launch center on October 24 on a Long March 3A carrier rocket. After 8 changes in course, it entered working orbit on November 11. There were equipment tests, on November 18, the satellite modified its direction toward the moon, and on November 20 it started transmitting data and processed the first image of the moon while making a three dimensional image.

    An official from the CNSA said that over the next year, Chang’e 1 will unceasingly send back data. After processing the data, it will be given to scientists for research.

  15. Arthur Maruyama

    For Jack Hagerty:

    In “2001: a Space Odyssey,” the first monolith was on the Earth.

    The second monolith was found after digging near Tycho crater on the Moon (so to be true to the movie the monolith itself wouldn’t be seen, but a magnetic anomaly should be found).

    The third monolith was found in orbit around Jupiter (or Saturn, if you’re reading the book based on the original screenplay).

    BA: thanks for the pic! The other stories I read didn’t include it.

  16. Miral

    > The black object is the WMD. The US will invade the moon shortly.

    Actually, that sounds like a good idea. Start spreading reports that the moon contains WMDs and get some of the military budget diverted over to NASA. I like it. (As long as they don’t decide to just start bombing the place, of course.)

  17. The Moon is our future and, as some have suggested, will be our eight continent, where we will live like never before. It’s amazing to think, therefore, that the teens of today will most likely live and work on the Moon in the coming decades and, possibly, walk on some of those craters shown.

    Check out the latest Moon news & missions at this great site — http://www.moonposter.ie

  18. boggis the cat

    @John

    I want my flying car and personal robot first!

    (Hey, if they can overcome the energy requirements to boost thousands of people and tons of equipment out of the Earth’s gravity then I don’t see why I can’t have my flying car!)

    😉

  19. Scott

    Will all the new moon missions coming online I hope someone thinks to take a quick high res shot of one of the Apollo landing sites so we can shut up the moon hoax nuts once and for all… of course they’ll just say the US Government intercepted the photo’s before the chinese got them, doctored the footage and sent them to the chinese to “discover”… LOL

  20. Thorin

    Isn’t the statement “…a crater can be formed from the impact of a basketball-sized rock as well as one the size of a city.” kind of misleading. I’m sure anything that impacts the moon leaves a crater, it might be insignificant but it still leaves a mark. Doesn’t it? Or is it just that you believe any impact by something smaller than a basketball wouldn’t show in these pictures? Which is a different thing entirely.

  21. Skepterist

    Hey, boggis the cat,

    My hypothesis is we don’t have flying cars for 2 reasons:
    1) Bad drivers make worse pilots
    2) Gravity

    If some people can’t manage to drive, talk on their cellphone, change the radio and look at a map without crashing into something, I don’t want them flying over my head.

    Have you seen some of the smoke-billowing, rusted out, parts-falling-off klunkers that some people drive? When someone’s car breaks down (and they do every day) the driver can simply pull over. If a flying car breaks down, its going to land on someone’s house! Gravity would not be your friend when you run out of gas. 😉

  22. BigBob

    You beat me to it Scott. Does anyone know of a plan to image an Apollo site? and which of the various Moon birds has the required resolution? Surely it’s only a matter of time before someone does it? Please?
    Bob (Big)

  23. Thorin

    @ BigBob of course they can’t image the Apollo site, because the moon landing was a hoax, haven’t you heard? 😀

  24. > (Hey, if they can overcome the energy requirements to boost thousands of people and tons of equipment out of the Earth’s gravity then I don’t see why I can’t have my flying car!)

    Project Orion. We’ve had the technology since the late 1950s, just not ZE VILL (/Strangelove voice) to do so.

  25. P.D.

    Doesn’t seem to have changed much in the last forty years. :-)
    China has now entered the 1960’s, hurray.

  26. I don’t see why I can’t have my flying car!

    You can go get your helicopter licence and fly around… all it takes is $

  27. Quiet_Desperation

    >”Project Orion. We’ve had the technology since the late 1950s, just not ZE VILL (/Strangelove voice) to do so.”

    You mean the nuclear bomb powered spaceship? Yeah, that’ll play in Peoria^H^H^H^H^H^H Berkeley.

    You think the US is an outcast *now*? It doesn’t matter that it would be a drop in the vast radiation bucket that is outer space. It would still be the “Ack! Teh nookulear! Pbbt!” Even people who understood the science would still use it for political reasons.

    We’ve got Putin in Russia right now flinching at imagined threats from the West. We’ve got a government in China that’s 50 years out of date. Yeah, lets put some nuclear bombs up in high orbit. That’s go over well.

    Nope. Orion is politically impossible with the current set of ideological memes at play in the world.

  28. Quiet_Desperation

    >”(Hey, if they can overcome the energy requirements to boost thousands of people and tons of equipment out of the Earth’s gravity then I don’t see why I can’t have my flying car!)”

    The car has to come back down at some point. Preferably not on my head.

    Here you go:
    http://www.americanautogyro.com/

    That’s as close to a flying car as you are going to get. About as safe as flying gets once you are properly trained. The horizontal rotor is unpowered and in autorotation during flight, so your engine can literally fall out and you can still land safely from almost any height.

  29. dkary

    Thorin is right about small impacts. I like to point out to my classes that a grain of dust from space doesn’t fall gently to the lunar surface: it comes crashing down at 2.4 km/s or faster and makes a tiny little crater. The rocks brought back from the Moon have plenty of the them, and the long-term effect is that the surface of the Moon doesn’t have all of those lovely sharp edges you see in the old Chesley Bonestell (sp?) paintings: everything has been worn down by the process they call “impact gardening” (one of my favorite terms from planetary geology).

  30. > Nope. Orion is politically impossible with the current set of ideological memes at play in the world.

    No argument (hence the Murgwendenliebe voice). I’m simply saying we can do it now and could have been doing it for the past quarter-century (with the post-Saturn space exploration plan). So when people whine about not having their flying cars and robot overlords there’s just one person to blame.

    YOU.

    Yes, you, Joe America!

  31. Dave Morton

    Surely the Chinese are actually far sighted in shooting for the moon & not rooted in the 50’s or 60’s as mentioned?

    Metal prices are rising and rising as China gets a decent standard of living. Maybe they’ve seriously considered mining the moon and asteroid belt whilst everyone else is only reading about it in sci-fi literature.

    Maybe I’ve been reading too much sci-fi myself…

  32. > Metal prices are rising and rising as China gets a decent standard of living. Maybe they’ve seriously considered mining the moon and asteroid belt whilst everyone else is only reading about it in sci-fi literature.

    The ROI is currently disputed. Without atomic propulsion, one has to expend inordinate amounts of wealth to get materials to the moon (to build a mining base) and then it has to return this material back to Earth. The cheap way to do this is mass driving, but anyone who’s read The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress can tell you people would put up with Earth being mindfully and carefully ortilleried about as well as they would Orion drives.

    Asteroids… small asteroids (if any are within reach) could have ion engines planted on them so they can slowly constant-accel to Earth, and that would be relatively cheap (whether cheaper than a moonbase, I can’t say). Carbonaceous asteroids may have organic compounds synthesizable into petroleum-analogs, which could be of great interest to industrializing powers…

  33. chris

    mr. phil. when can we expect to see pics of the apollo landing site from these satalites to put to rest once and fo all the moon hoax conspriacy

  34. Arthur Maruyama says: “For Jack Hagerty:In “2001: a Space
    > Odyssey,” the first monolith was on the Earth. The second
    > monolith was found after digging near Tycho crater on the
    > Moon (so to be true to the movie the monolith itself wouldn’t
    > be seen, but a magnetic anomaly should be found).

    Thank you, Arthur, but I suspect my joke was a little too subtle. From my previous work I am VERY familiar with the “Odyssey” series (which I believe Phil will make known to his readers here fairly soon).

    I was making reference to the scene in “2061, Odyssey III” where the Chinese land on Europa and discover a life form in the ocean under the ice.

    > The third monolith was found in orbit around Jupiter (or Saturn,
    > if you’re reading the book based on the original screenplay).

    Actually, the book was not based on the screenplay. They were written together over many, many writing sessions between Clarke and Kubrick. Once they had finished the final screenplay, the two parted company and, like Darwin’s finches, the stories evolved separately up to their publication/premiers. The destination for the Discovery was always Saturn, but effects problems in getting a believable ring system had Kubrick make a very late decision to move it to Jupiter. Clarke, though, kept it Saturn so that he could place TMA-2 in the center of the white zone of Iapetus (or “Japetus” as he calls it in the book).

    – Jack

  35. StevoR

    Well done Chang’e-1 & China.

    I’m just waiting for the first astronaut to land on the Moon, jump out of the Chinese lunar lander and claim the Moon …

    … in the name of Tibet! ;^)

    …. & then defect to the West and tell the Communist Dictators of the “people’s republic” where they can go! 😉

    After all, what can they do about it when they’re up there & the Govt’s not? Of course getting a Tibetan – or Taiwanese or Xinjiangean for that matter – selected as a “taikonaut” astronaut will be a bit hard although many disenchanted Han (majority Chinese ethnicity) are around …

    … Not least millions of Falun Gong practitioners (okay they’re relig. & we don’t like that but they don’t deserve the sort of brutal repression they’ve been getting all the same.)

  36. StevoR

    > Nope. Orion is politically impossible with the _* current *__ set of ideological memes at play in the world.

    Hmmn… Isn’t the current meme in power ‘Neoconservatist American triumphalism’ or in a nutshell : that the yanks’ll invade anyone they want to regardless of having any halfway decent reason for doing so???

    Anyone that is except tough larger superpowers like China or those like N. Korea armed with nukes that can actually, sorta you know, fight back …? (It says nothing good about the US that its recent victims – Iraq & Afghanistan – are pitiful third world countries with stuff-all military & political might. Its kinda like the winner of the Indy-500 entering his race car in the under 10 soapbox derby & then boasting how great he is for winning… :-()

    The _current_ memes may well change after The US and / or Israel try flattening Iran … (coming soon to a TV near you?)

    … Or a war erupts with China over Taiwan or just both superpowers desire for “full spectrum dominance” ie. world rulership.

    … Or who knows what other militaristic, all-balls, no-brains gambit Bush the lesser will try before departing the “presidency.”

    Whether anything’ll be left to launch anything remains to be seen.

    Personally, I’d prefer it was America still standing and able to launch ‘Orion’ or its equiv. than China (hey, I am a Westerner) but my first preference would be that such stupidity and waste of lives never happens which is why I’m really hoping :

    I) The US comes to its senses & impeaches Dubya Bush preferably yesterday or earlier.

    II) The Chinese change their government from totalitarian Communist despotism to a Western -or Indian style – democracy.

    &

    III) Iran gets and tests a nuclear bomb soon – as I’m afraid its the only thing that may stop Israel and Bush’es Amercia from doing something very stupid like attacking Iran.* If the M.A.D. + idea worked for The Cold War & India-Pakistan, here’s hoping it works again the same way ..

    ————————————————-
    * Iran, incidentally wouldn’t do aything stupid for the same reason. It knows if it gets the bomb and uses it (or passes it on to AQ) it will be vapourised. At present, America and Israel (both nations with large WMD and nuke arsenals) have no such deterrent stopping them considering attacking Iran. Which would, most likely, spark WW-III.

    + Mutually Assured Destruction – the reason Russia didn’t nuke America and vice-versa despite some very close shaves eg. the Cuban missile crisis.

  37. autumn

    SteveOr,
    Esquire magazine published an article a couple of years ago by a retired General, who has written for them on and off since, about why America should encourage, tacitly, of course, Iran to proceed with its nuclear weapons program to provide “balance” to the area.
    Forced to deal with a nuclear power besides Israel, America’s position would neccissarily become more conciliatory, and much of the East v. West tension would find a natural, if uncomfortable, resoloution.
    Yes, the leaders, even of theocratic countries, are very interested in maintaining power, impossible in a post-nuclear wasteland.

  38. David Vanderschel

    There is a word for this sort of scale-invariant self-similarity: fractal. I wonder is there is any theory that would support a fractal nature for the impact patterns on the moon. There is a good discussion of fractal stuff at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fractal

  39. > Forced to deal with a nuclear power besides Israel, America’s position would neccissarily become more conciliatory, and much of the East v. West tension would find a natural, if uncomfortable, resoloution.

    And it doesn’t hurt that, like the DPRK and Israel, an atomic Iran would be conventionally (har har) a regional atomic power. Unconventionally is the big fear, but the active components of atomic bombs are quite exacting pieces of machinery difficult to miniaturize and I don’t see an atomic Iran as being particularly threatening that way.

    As for attacking Iran, I don’t see it as particularly likely (indeed, if people didn’t actually truely believe it to be a possibility, I’d argue it to be a total canard). Sabre-rattling is the usual method of looking tough without actually getting into a scrap, and the Iranian theocracy will probably solve itself in a relatively bloodless revolution within the next twenty years, primarily because the theocrats have almost no popular supprt except when Iran is threatened from the outside, due to a very strong sense of nationalism there.

    Now, were I a fan of conspiracy theories (and if I thought our current government were sly and bright enough to be sufficiently Machiavellian to do it) I’d say that if the government actually was quietly helping Iran to become a regional atomic counterbalance to Israel they’d have all the more reason to rail against it publically until it becomes an ingrained meme that America Has Nothing To Do With Iranian Atomic Power. Basically make a matter of quiet policy a public antithesis, and when it does eventually become exposed, fallout (heh heh) is reduced due to incredulity.

  40. davidlpf

    Okay why can’t we see anything left by the missions when we last on the moon, see it must a conspiracy.:-)

    Nice picture.

  41. Quiet_Desperation

    >”I) The US comes to its senses & impeaches Dubya Bush preferably yesterday or earlier.”

    Not going to happen, and I’m not sure it would be good for the country. And this is from a registered Bush hater.

    >”II) The Chinese change their government from totalitarian Communist despotism to a Western -or Indian style – democracy.”

    Yeah, have fun waiting for that.

    >”III) Iran gets and tests a nuclear bomb soon – as I’m afraid its the only thing that may stop Israel and Bush’es Amercia from doing something very stupid like attacking Iran.”

    You’re kidding, right? I mean… you’re kidding?

    >”If the M.A.D. + idea worked for The Cold War & India-Pakistan, here’s hoping it works again the same way ..”

    Hope in one hand and crap in the other. See which one fills up first.

    You’re still fighting the last war.

    http://www.reason.com/news/show/34142.html

    And an alternative:

    http://reason.com/news/show/122023.html

  42. The Dude

    Seriously, did Chang e-1 get any photographic evidence of the Apollo missions. I just want to see it with my own two eyes. One of the main reasons that I don’t believe the Hoax theory is that if the U.S. had orchestrated such huge hoax; I just assumed that the U.S.S.R. would have exposed them by now. I mean it was at the height of the ‘Cold War’ and it would have destroyed NASA’s and US’s scientific reputation, in the eyes of the international community, for the next few decades. Let’s hope Chang e-1 can finally put those silly hoax theories to rest.

  43. glen

    where’s the link to all those lunar pictures by the chinese? If they’ve indeed agreed to share all uncensored data, how come i’ve never heard a peep out of it in the western media?

  44. i have some amazing moon anomalies……..
    i dont think lotta people have seen it……
    my whole agenda of looking at the moon images is to see the anomalies……..
    so if u find a chinese friend who can translate the info it would be wonderful………….
    i think there are structures all over on farside of the moon….

  45. Phil K

    #38: Yes, there is a good reason for the surface of the moon to be fractal, and Phil has already explained it: saturation. Objects of all sizes hit the moon, and they’ve done so for so long that they erase as many craters as they create. However, the appearance isn’t completely fractal because, as#5 says, gravity and the material properties aren’t exactly the same at all scales.

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