In January 2019, China made history by landing its Chang’e-4 space probe on the far side of the Moon. One year on, and the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) has released a large batch of photos from the Chang’e-4 lander and accompanying Yutu-2 rover.
Named after the Chinese goddess of the Moon, Chang’e-4 landed in the Von Kármán Crater in the southern hemisphere of the Moon. This crater lies within one of the largest impact craters in the solar system, the South Pole-Aitken basin, which has a diameter of roughly 2,500 kilometers (1,600 miles).
The Yutu-2 rover – literally translating as "Jade Rabbit", the companion of moon goddess Chang’e – has since ventured over 345 meters (1,132 feet) across the Moon’s surface and captured some truly breathtaking images.
According to Space.com, this recent selection comprises close-up views of the crater, the distant skyline, clear shots of regolith (Moon soil), as well as images of the lander and rover, including Yutu-2’s tracks.
Whilst the images have all been made publicly available by the CNSA, Doug Ellison, a Mars photographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, has processed several of the images and shared them on Twitter. Doug has even collated several thousand frames from the Chang’e-4’s landing camera to produce this “real time” video of the probe’s descent.
The Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover have just been woken up for their 14th lunar day. Each lunar day is made up of around 14 Earth days of daylight and 14 Earth days of night-time. Therefore, the solar-powered equipment is active for the lunar daytime and powers down for the lunar night-time. Considering Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover’s expected lifetimes were 1 year and 3 months respectively, their 14th lunar day is a big achievement.
Data from the spacecraft will continue to be relayed to Earth via the Queqiao communications satellite. Translated as “magpie bridge”, the satellite is placed just beyond the Moon at a point of gravitational stability. This allows the signal from the far side of the Moon, which never faces Earth, to reach our planet.
The third phase of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program is set to launch later this year. The Chang’e-5 mission will collect approximately 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of lunar samples from the near side of the Moon and send them back to Earth.