China's lunar lander spotted by orbiting spacecraft

Dec 31, 2013 by Jason Major, Universe Today
Image of Chang’e-3 (top arrow) and Yutu rover captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter on Dec. 25 UTC. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Not much on the Moon escapes the eyes of NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and China's Chang'e-3 lander and Yutu rover are no exception! The pair touched down on the lunar surface on Dec. 14, and just over a week later on Dec. 25 LRO acquired the image above, showing the lander and the 120-kg (265-lb) "Jade Rabbit" rover at their location near the Moon's Sinus Iridum region.

The width of the narrow-angle camera image is 576 meters; north is up. LRO was about 150 km (93 miles) from the Chang'e-3 site when the image was acquired.

So how can we be so sure that those bright little specks are actually human-made robots and not just a couple of basaltic boulders? Find out below:

According to School of Earth and Space Exploration professor Mark Robinson's description on Arizona State University's LROC blog:

"The rover is only about 150 cm wide, yet it shows up in the NAC images for two reasons: the solar panels are very effective at reflecting light so the rover shows up as two bright pixels, and the Sun is setting thus the rover casts a distinct shadow (as does the lander). Since the rover is close to the size of a pixel, how can we be sure we are seeing the rover and not a comparably sized boulder? Fortuitously, the NAC acquired a "before" image of the landing site, with nearly identical lighting, on 30 June 2013. By comparing the before and after landing site images, the LROC team confirmed the position of the lander and rover, and derived accurate map coordinates for the lander (44.1214°N, 340.4884°E, -2640 meters elevation)."

Before-and-after LROC images of Chang’e-3′s landing site: June 30 vs. Dec. 25, 2013. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

LRO circles the Moon in a polar orbit at an average altitude of 50 km (31 miles). The LROC instrument contains two narrow-angle camera heads (NACs) providing 0.5-meter/pixel panchromatic images over a 5-km swath, a wide-angle camera head (WAC) providing images at a scale of 100 meters in seven-color bands.

Both the Chang'e-3 and Yutu rover are reported to be in good health and performing well. The solar-powered went into sleep mode on Dec. 26 to wait out the 14-day lunar night, during which time the temperatures on the can drop to -180ºC (-292ºF). Yutu's radioisotope heat source will keep it from freezing, but it won't be able to generate power from its solar arrays.

Explore further: China's lunar lander snaps first landing site panorama

More information: lroc.sese.asu.edu/news/index.php?/archives/849-Change-3-Lander-and-Rover-From-Above.html

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

China's moon rover leaves traces on lunar soil

Dec 15, 2013

China's first moon rover has touched the lunar surface and left deep traces on its loose soil, state media reported Sunday, several hours after the country successfully carried out the world's first soft ...

China's flag-bearing rover photographed on moon

Dec 16, 2013

China hailed its lunar probe mission a success after the country's first moon rover and the landing vehicle that carried it there took photos of each other on the surface, state media reported.

Recommended for you

Kazakh satellite to be launched into orbit

14 hours ago

Kazakhstan's first-ever Earth observation satellite is to be fired into orbit next week from the European spaceport in Kourou in French Guiana, launch company Arianespace said.

Habitable exoplanets are bad news for humanity

16 hours ago

Last week, scientists announced the discovery of Kepler-186f, a planet 492 light years away in the Cygnus constellation. Kepler-186f is special because it marks the first planet almost exactly the same size as Earth ...

First-of-its-kind NASA space-weather project

Apr 23, 2014

A NASA scientist is launching a one-to-two-year pilot project this summer that takes advantage of U.S. high-voltage power transmission lines to measure a phenomenon that has caused widespread power outages ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Habitable exoplanets are bad news for humanity

Last week, scientists announced the discovery of Kepler-186f, a planet 492 light years away in the Cygnus constellation. Kepler-186f is special because it marks the first planet almost exactly the same size as Earth ...

Professional and amateur astronomers join forces

(Phys.org) —Long before the term "citizen science" was coined, the field of astronomy has benefited from countless men and women who study the sky in their spare time. These amateur astronomers devote hours ...

Kazakh satellite to be launched into orbit

Kazakhstan's first-ever Earth observation satellite is to be fired into orbit next week from the European spaceport in Kourou in French Guiana, launch company Arianespace said.

Genetic code of the deadly tsetse fly unraveled

Mining the genome of the disease-transmitting tsetse fly, researchers have revealed the genetic adaptions that allow it to have such unique biology and transmit disease to both humans and animals.

Ocean microbes display remarkable genetic diversity

The smallest, most abundant marine microbe, Prochlorococcus, is a photosynthetic bacteria species essential to the marine ecosystem. An estimated billion billion billion of the single-cell creatures live i ...