China’s Chang’e-4 Lands on Moon’s Far Side, Snaps First Image

By Chelsea Gohd | January 3, 2019 11:01 am
#China's Chang'e-4 probe sends back world's first close shot of moon's far side after historic soft landing on uncharted area

The Chang’e-4 spacecraft sent back the world’s first close shot of moon’s far side after making a historic soft landing. (Credit: CNSA)

Making Lunar History

For the first time in history, a spacecraft has landed on the far side of the moon. At 10:26 am, Jan. 3 Beijing time, China’s Chang’e-4 spacecraft made a successful soft landing in the Von Kármán crater within the moon’s South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin. A few hours after the landing, the craft sent back its first close shot of the far side of the lunar surface via the relay communication satellite Queqiao, according to the state-run China Global Television Network.

The Chang’e-4 mission took off for the moon just over a month ago, and reached orbit around the satellite on December 12. The mission harbored some risk, because operators on Earth cannot directly communicate with spacecraft on the moon’s far side. Chang’e-4 communicates with Earth via a relay satellite in orbit around the moon, something that adds another level of complexity and risk, according to Jim Head, a researcher at Brown University who worked with Chinese colleagues to analyze Chang’e-4’s landing site.

The landing appears to have been accomplished without any major issues, however, and the Chinese lander and rover will be able to begin exploring the moon’s far side, an environment astronauts and spacecraft have until today only seen from afar.

A Quiet Place

The far side of the moon, because it faces away from Earth, isn’t polluted by radio “noise” from our planet. So scientists think that it could be an ideal location for radio astronomy, which works best when there are no interfering signals like we have on Earth. The spacecraft’s spectrometer, which will make radio astronomy observations, will test this idea.

Another instrument on board the spacecraft known as the Advanced Small Analyzer for Neutrals (ASAN), will measure how solar wind — a flow of charged particles from the sun — interacts with the lunar surface. The first data from this instrument is expected to be available before Feb. 11. The spacecraft also carries cameras and a radiation experiment.

There is much to explore on the far side of the moon. Researchers believe that the SPA basin that the craft landed in could have lunar mantle on the surface, brought up by an ancient collision. If so, it would give astronomers a chance to study material from the moon’s interior, something that could help them understand how it formed. Other questions about the moon’s geology, such as why the crust is thicker there could be answered with data from this mission as well.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
  • Android Classes

    Well written. Short and to the point, taking the Chinese claims and photos at face value. Their use of L2 as a relay point and their handling of comm links is an engineering tour de force. Hope they share all data from all instruments.

    • OWilson

      While heralded as a human scientific achievement, there is no reason to suppose they will be anymore forthcoming about their real activities in space than they are with their military efforts here on Earth. Communications from the far side of the moon are limited to China’s own moon orbiting satellites.

      Ostensibly they are conducting experiments on plant growth in microgravity, and have landed in a crater that is thought to contain water ice, but you can bet there is a military component to the research.

      “The space dream is part of the dream to make China stronger,” – President Xi Jinping, 2015

      They are unabashedly and consistently hacking our technology, and defense contractors databases, so we cannot trust them to share their own research.

      The West would be wise to take heed!

  • Michael Cleveland

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for not taking us to the “dark side.”


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar