Cool videos from a Chinese Moon probe

By Phil Plait | November 18, 2010 7:36 am

Over at the Planetary Society Blog, Emily Lakdawalla has posted some videos taken by Chang’E 2, a Chinese space probe that just entered lunar orbit in October. The engineering cameras were pointed in such a way that technicians on Earth could make sure things were working properly on board, but the videos give an added bonus: the beauty and surreal nature of a man-made object orbiting another world.

Here’s my favorite of the five:

You can see the engine nozzle there, and the Moon in the background. After the probe inserted itself into lunar orbit, it had to adjust the orbital shape and height (this is called trimming the orbit). It goes through a series of turns, then begins to fire the thrusters. You won’t see flames shooting out; the fuel it uses burns invisibly. But when the probe enters the Moon’s shadow (what some folks call the dark side of the Moon, a bit of a misnomer) you can see parts of the nozzle glowing with the heat of the fuel burning.

Very cool. I’m glad to see other countries exploring our nearest neighbor. The more people we have looking around, the more we learn about it. And all of us are potential partners in space, something I like seeing very, very much.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Space

Comments (30)

  1. Wayne on the plains

    That is so cool. I wonder what temperature that nozzle is getting to? It may very well glow visibly, but I suspect the camera is also seeing a bit into the infrared.

  2. Bob

    Clearly the ChiComs are in on the moon hoax.

    Notice – no stars in the background?

    Or no exhaust – from a burning rocket? please, every rocket engine on earth burns and belches smoke.

    The “moon” looks like a model, and therefore, probably is.

    (this is a joke – ;))

  3. Chaz

    Although I wonder, what are the shadows on the nozzle from 1:20-30-ish? Something to do with the nozzle itself? The probe?

  4. Kyle

    @ Bob: No it is not a joke. Your statements are perfectly true. (especially the part about that being a joke ;-) )

  5. Bob

    @Chaz most likely the probe itself, as the rockets fire, it is changing position to the sunlight, so parts of the probe are casting differing shadows.

    Without the moon in the background, can’t see the change in position after it goes totally dark.

  6. Messier Tidy Upper

    Having the engine nozzle obscuring part of the Moon seems an odd positioning of the camera really! Still neat video though. ;-)

  7. Leo

    So now we know that chemtrails are being sprayed on the moon too. I’ll bet if we take a closer look we will also see rainbows in lunar sprinklers. : /

  8. Ronan

    Surely that can’t be realtime? I mean, I obviously don’t know how fast the probe is traveling, but even at an eightieth of the Earth’s mass the moon’s still pretty big; I wouldn’t have thought that an object in orbit that close to a body that large could pass over so much area in such a short time without flinging itself away. Is this basically fast-forwarded footage?

  9. Jamey

    If the engine had been firing over the lit side of the Moon, would we have seen distortion of the surface from refraction through the gas?

  10. Jason

    @jamey .. I would guess not at least not without looking very closely. The exhaust probably spreads out very quickly since there isn’t any air around it to confine and provide a sharp refraction boundry.

  11. Jon Hanford

    Can anyone identify some of the terrestrial landmasses seen in the first video showing the deployment of the solar arrays?

  12. But when the probe enters the Moon’s shadow (what some folks call the dark side of the Moon, a bit of a misnomer)

    I thought that the “dark side of the Moon” was the misnomer applied to the “far side”, not the shadow? (Either that, or a Pink Floyd album.)

  13. Is that camera going to always be looking at the engine? It seems kind of nuts. Or was it just positioned there so they monitor it while they changed positions?

  14. JC

    That footage was taken w/an engineering camera. There are likely several of those positioned in places on the orbiter just so the engineers can monitor/verify things.

    The science cameras would be better positioned and higher quality.

  15. Reed

    Messier Tidy & Non-Believer
    These videos are from engineering cameras, not the main science cameras. They are there so the engineers can monitor the behavior of specific systems, and science or pretty pictures is a bonus. There are several on Chang’e 2, and all are in fixed positions AFAIK. Cameras have small and light enough that having one dedicated to watching an engine or solar array deployment isn’t a huge deal.

    Mars Express VMC http://www.esa.int/esaMI/VMC/index.html served a similar purpose.

  16. Michel

    The glow on that engine is beautiful.

  17. whb03

    Glad SOMEONE is doing something with all of the space technology we developed and gave away. I swear they are going to beat us to Mars – assuming we ever get there…

  18. Keith (the first one)

    That’s very cool. It’s also nice to see some video from a spacecraft near the moon that was taken more recently than the 1970s. The quality is very good too.

  19. QuietDesperation

    I swear they are going to beat us to Mars

    Am I the only one not bothered by this? Bully for them.

  20. nick flann

    When are the Chinese going to land a robot vehicle on the moon? I read somewhere that this mission is designed to reconnoiter the location. Its going to be great when we can get real-time high quality 3D images from the moons surface, then move around and see what’s over that hill. Maybe if the Chinese demonstrate this ability, the USA will start taking more of an interest in the moon.

  21. 2. Bob Says: “every rocket engine on earth burns and belches smoke.”

    You are correct. Every rocket engine ON EARTH shows the exhaust components condensing in the atmosphere.

    “The “moon” looks like a model, and therefore, probably is.”

    I know you said this as a joke, but I was thinking the same thing. If you’d seen as many old sci-fi movies about moon flight as I have (and I mean old = 1920’s) you’d be just as amazed at how close some of them came to depicting the moon from orbit.

    – Jack

  22. 10. Jason Says: “@jamey .. I would guess not at least not without looking very closely. The exhaust probably spreads out very quickly since there isn’t any air around it to confine and provide a sharp refraction boundary.”

    I was thinking the same as jamey. The exhaust is pretty dense as it leaves the nozzle and pretty well constrained. I mean we were looking at it only an inch/cm or two out. It’s not going to dissipate sideways that quickly.

    – Jack

  23. Very interesting video. What isn’t always clear in this kind of thing is whether the time has been sped up, and if so by how much. Does anyone know what the time-lapse factor is here?

    (I find the same with aurora films – having no experience and no obvious reference points, do they actually wiggle across the sky in seconds, or is the motion more sedate?)

  24. Would be interesting to know the frame rate of that video.

    I suspect the distortion of the wide angle lens accentuates the illusion of speed.

    And I agree with QD. Bravo to the Chinese team!

  25. Gary Ansorge

    That is so fraking cool. My compliments to the Chinese scientists, engineers and techs that accomplished this.

    12. Ken B

    Darkness prevails all over the moon. Once each month.

    17. whb03

    “all of the space technology we developed and gave away”

    Are you under the impression we were the only ones to have listened to Tsilkovsky and Robert Goddard? China had decades of work to do before they were in a position to attempt something of this scale. I’m glad they are finally in a position to achieve so much.

    I expect Dr. vonBraun was happy to “give” away his hard earned knowledge, just for the chance to move humanity one more step along a path to the stars.

    As am I.

    Gary 7

  26. Brad

    How cool, can’t wait till they orbit over and photograph all the evidence from the yanks landing on the moon

  27. MaDeR

    @26:
    I do not think any more evidence are needed for decades.

  28. whb03

    Gary7, I see your point, and yes, my reaction was more emotional and knee-jerk reactionary than logical. No doubt the Chinese scientists deserve recognition for their achievements.

    When China first put a man in space, I, like nick flann, was hopeful that it would spur the US into further space interests, even if not for more than out of paranoia (same way we got to the moon). But I am ever more frustrated that we are technologically lagging further and further behind, and have all but ended our pursuit of space exploration. China is taking aim at the moon, while we won’t even have our own means of getting to ISS after the next shuttle launch! And yes, I do believe that we have given away our technology. When Boeing, Airbus, etc. build factories in China, they give away our technology – more, they PAY to give it away. Are we really so niave to believe they haven’t been taking notes, despite assurances that they are only getting the assembly work? Much of the modernization of China has been at our expense, and now we are forced to deal with competing against our own technology with the equivalent of slave labor. As we slip further and further into the technological and economic abyss. Read Aviation Week lately? It should realistically be called Chinese Aviation and Indian Space Technology, as most of it is about their achievements anymore. And I will say it again: WE, the US, developed the technology from which they build, and we are not doing much to stay competitive in the marketplace which we largely created. In fact, we are getting creamed. We have lost our edge. We have lost our vision. People like QD loudly declare that they simply don’t care that we won’t make it to Mars. Shame on us.

    So now, when I see achievements such as this, the first thought is that while they are sending robots to the moon, we should be setting up colonies on Mars. And while I applaud their achievements (more begrudgingly as of late), I mourn the loss of ours.

    No doubt people will furiously respond to individual examples of how we are cleaning up technologically. But who is getting ready to go to the moon, and where exactly are we heading? Answer to the second question: nowhere soon. And as an American who watched the last of the Apollo missions launch from his preschool TV, and who tried in vain to start a career in aviation only to discover the field had been permenantly shrinking since shortly after said last launches, that ticks me off.

    The West is falling off the map, people.

  29. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ whb03 :

    Nice post – I agree.

    So now, when I see achievements such as this, the first thought is that while they are sending robots to the moon, we should be setting up colonies on Mars. And while I applaud their achievements (more begrudgingly as of late), I mourn the loss of ours.

    Me too. Well put.

    OTOH, the BA wrote :

    I’m glad to see other countries exploring our nearest neighbor. The more people we have looking around, the more we learn about it. And all of us are potential partners in space, something I like seeing very, very much.

    Potential partners, yes, *maybe* – but equally possibly also potential rivals and potential enemies. :-(

    The United States landed twelve men on the Moon coming “in peace and for all Mankind. [sic]”

    Will the totalitarian Communist in name but plain cruel dictatorship in nature Chinese do the same?

    Will they be as benevolent and as generous as the USA has been?

    I, for one, will never forget what the Chinese did to their own people at Tianamin Square in the 1989 massacre or that they are engaging in genocide right now against the Tibetans and some other minorities as well. Not to mention their one-child policy and consequently the widespread practice of female infanticide and the rise of the spoilt, super jingoistic sex-starved “little Emperor” generation in the PRC. :-(

    I don’t wish to see people like that controlling the “High Frontier.”

    Its nice to think that the Chinese will behave well and be reasonable and decent peaceful competitors. I do wonder however whether if that’s being a trifle too naive and guillible. Communist China is a brutal, repressive, ruthless and nasty regime with a culture that holds human rights and human life in contempt. That is a matter of fact that has been demonstrated repeatedly through their history. :-(

    How will we feel, how will we respond if the Chinese claim the Moon as a Chinese outpost or, generally, claim space, the ultimate high frontier for themselves and set up military bases denying others?

    Do we really want to allow this to happen uncontested? Do you really trust the Chinese despots to be just and good to the rest of the planet?

    How much say exactly do people here want the totalitarian Chinese dictatorship to have over our combined collective futures – and our children’s and grandchildren’s futures?

  30. whb03

    MTU, I think it all comes down to this: if the playing field was truely level (or at least something close), I would have no issue whatsoever with “potential partners in space” – or with potential LEGITIMATE competitors. But for all the reasons noted above, there is nothing level or legitimate about Chinese governmental interests, in space or anywhere else. The Chinese government is just plain brutal, and they have no intention of allowing anyone to share in their glory. No, I don’t trust the Chinese in space. The thought of the Chinese laying claim to anything above the stratosphere is one which keeps me up at night, for reasons far beyond scientific advancement.

    Tianamin Square? I can come up with many far more recent examples – from their merry escapades in Tibet to the brutal sweat shops which serve as the source to everyone from Boeing to Wal-Mart. And to think – 20 years ago, those sweat shops were AMERICAN jobs which were subject to all that socialist liberal human rights garbage, what with making a living wage in safe working conditions and all. From a pinko commie humanitarian standpoint, this is intolerable – but from a pure republican standpoint, I would think this would raise a more business-oriented objection: it is these very sweatshops which are wiping out our own middle class here, and without the middle class, you can’t have business. But apparently, I am wrong, as it’s now the global economy, stupid. Right. Far, far right, that is…

    I’m going pinko here and saying that without fair trade which enforces all that liberal human rights garbage, the thought of Chinese on the moon is one which scares the hell out of me.

    Note that these issues are with the Chinese government, not with the Chinese people, not with the scientists, but with the government. And with those who force us to directly compete for our existence with the brutalities imposed by said government.

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