On December 14, 2013, China’s Yutu lunar lander and rover, also known as “Jade Rabbit,” touched down on the surface of the Moon, the first landing on the Moon since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 in 1976. And now, China has released hundreds of high-resolution images from the successful mission, revealing stunning views of the lunar surface.
All of the images are available on the website for the China National Space Administration (CNSA), although the site itself is a little hard to navigate. Helpfully, Emily Lakdawalla from The Planetary Society has pored through all of the images from both the lander and rover and hosted them online for you to peruse.
There are far too many images for us to go into great detail here. Some of the more fascinating reveal the rugged, grey terrain of the lunar surface with the dark sky above. Of course, stars don’t appear in the images because the light reflecting from the surface blocks them out, like how you can’t see stars in the night sky when you look at a street light.
Here we can see the lander on the surface, as seen by the rover. Chinese Academy of Sciences/CNSA/The Science and Application Center for Moon and Deepspace Exploration/Emily Lakdawalla
Some of the other more intriguing images show the rover on the surface, with its progress marked out by its tracks. Others show some stunningly Earth-like rock formations on the surface near the landing site, the Zi Wei crater (or Purple Palace in English).
The extremely cold lunar nights, which last two weeks, eventually saw the rover become motionless in early 2014. But both the rover and lander are still communicating with Earth, continuing to give scientists data from the surface.
The level of detail in the images is astonishing. Chinese Academy of Sciences/CNSA/The Science and Application Center for Moon and Deepspace Exploration/Emily Lakdawalla
Among the discoveries made by Yutu was a new type of lunar rock with a low amount of silicon oxide, a high amount of iron oxide, and a middling amount of titanium dioxide, something that had not been found on the Moon before. This hinted at the possibility of large impacts during the formation of the lunar mantle.
This mission will be succeeded by an even more ambitious one, named Chang’e-5, in 2017. This will attempt to land on the Moon and return samples to Earth, the first time that will have been done since 1976. In 2018, China also wants to become the first nation to land on the far side of the Moon. This rapidly improving space superpower certainly isn’t pulling any punches.