China lunar probe sheds light on the 'dark' side of the moon

China lunar probe sheds light on the 'dark' side of the moon
In this photo provided Jan. 3, 2019, by China National Space Administration via Xinhua News Agency, the first image of the moon's far side taken by China's Chang'e-4 probe. A Chinese spacecraft on Thursday, Jan. 3, made the first-ever landing on the far side of the moon, state media said. The lunar explorer Chang'e 4 touched down at 10:26 a.m., China Central Television said in a brief announcement at the top of its noon news broadcast.(China National Space Administration/Xinhua News Agency via AP)

China's burgeoning space program achieved a lunar milestone on Thursday: landing a probe on the mysterious and misnamed "dark" side of the moon.

Exploring the cosmos from that far side of the moon, which people can't see from Earth, could eventually help scientists learn more about the early days of the solar system and maybe even the birth of the universe's first stars.

Three nations—the United States, the former Soviet Union and more recently China—all have sent spacecraft to the side of the moon that faces Earth, but this landing is the first on the far side. That side has been observed many times from lunar orbit, but never up close.

The China National Space Administration said the 10:26 a.m. touchdown of the Chang'e 4 craft has "opened up a new chapter in human lunar exploration."

A photo taken at 11:40 a.m. and sent back by Chang'e 4 shows a small crater and a barren surface that appears to be illuminated by a light from the lunar explorer. Its name comes from that of a Chinese goddess who, according to legend, has lived on the moon for millennia.

One challenge of sending a probe to the moon's far side is communicating with it from Earth, so China launched a relay satellite in May to enable Chang'e 4 to send back information.

China lunar probe sheds light on the 'dark' side of the moon
In this photo provided on Jan. 3, 2019, by the China National Space Administration via Xinhua News Agency, an image taken by China's Chang'e-4 probe after its landing. A Chinese spacecraft on Thursday, Jan. 3, made the first-ever landing on the far side of the moon, state media said. The lunar explorer Chang'e 4 touched down at 10:26 a.m., China Central Television said in a brief announcement at the top of its noon news broadcast. (China National Space Administration/Xinhua News Agency via AP)

The mission highlights China's growing ambitions to rival the U.S., Russia and Europe in space, and more broadly, to cement its position as a regional and global power.

"The space dream is part of the dream to make China stronger," President Xi Jinping said after becoming the country's leader in 2013.

Chinese media and officials hailed the Dec. 8 launch of Chang'e 4 as one of the nation's major achievements in 2018.

The public was kept in suspense about the landing itself for more than an hour after it occurred, with state broadcaster CCTV announcing it at the top of the noon news. By that time, speculation already had begun spreading on social media in China and overseas.

"On the whole, China's space technology still lags behind the West, but with the landing on the far side of the moon, we have raced to the front," said Hou Xiyun, a professor at Nanjing University's school of astronomy and space science.

China lunar probe sheds light on the 'dark' side of the moon
This photo provided on Jan. 3, 2019, by China National Space Administration via Xinhua News Agency shows an image taken by China's Chang'e-4 probe during its landing process. A Chinese spacecraft on Thursday, Jan. 3, made the first-ever landing on the far side of the moon, state media said. The lunar explorer Chang'e 4 touched down at 10:26 a.m., China Central Television said in a brief announcement at the top of its noon news broadcast. (China National Space Administration/Xinhua News Agency via AP)

He added that China has Mars, Jupiter and asteroids in its sights: "There's no doubt that our nation will go farther and farther."

The landing was "a big deal" because it used an engineering technique of the spacecraft itself choosing a safe place to touch down in treacherous terrain, something called autonomous hazard avoidance, said Purdue University lunar and planetary scientist Jay Melosh.

He recalled mentioning the idea of such a technique for an unfunded NASA lunar mission about eight years ago, only to be told it wasn't doable at the time.

"The moon is more challenging to land on than Mars," Melosh said. "On Mars, you can pick out smooth areas."

In 2013, the predecessor spacecraft Chang'e 3 made the first moon landing since the former Soviet Union's Luna 24 in 1976. The United States is the only country to successfully send astronauts to the moon—2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing—although China is considering a crewed mission too.

China lunar probe sheds light on the 'dark' side of the moon
In this image provided on Jan. 3, 2019, by China's Xinhua News Agency, a simulated landing process of Chang'e-4 lunar probe is seen through the monitor at Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing. A Chinese spacecraft on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, made the first-ever landing on the far side of the moon, state media said. (Jin Liwang/Xinhua News via AP)

For now, it plans to send a Chang'e 5 probe to the moon next year and have it return to Earth with samples—also not done since the Soviet mission in 1976.

The moon's far side is sometimes called the "dark side" in popular culture because it is always unseen from Earth and is relatively unknown, not because it lacks sunlight.

Chang'e 4, a combined lander and rover, will make astronomical observations and probe the composition of the soil.

The spacecraft landed in the South Pole-Aitken basin, the oldest known impact zone. Scientists want to know how old—somewhere between 3.9 billion and 4.4 billion years old—to better understand a period in the solar system's history called the late heavy bombardment. That's when space rocks were careening off each other and crashing into moons and planets, including Earth. Knowing the age and chemical composition of this crash zone would help understand Earth's ancient history better, said Purdue's Melosh.

Chang'e 4 could also contribute to radio astronomy.

China lunar probe sheds light on the 'dark' side of the moon
In this Dec. 8, 2018, file photo, and released by Xinhua News Agency, the Chang'e 4 lunar probe launches from the the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwestern China's Sichuan province. The official China Central Television says Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, the lunar explorer Chang'e 4 had touched down at 10:26 a.m to make first-ever landing on the far side of the moon. (Jiang Hongjing/Xinhua via AP, File)

"The far side of the moon is a rare, quiet place that is free from interference from radio signals from Earth," mission spokesman Yu Guobin said, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. "This probe can fill the gap of low-frequency observation in radio astronomy and will provide important information for studying the origin of stars and nebula evolution."

Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb said that in the future, it may be possible to see much farther—and thus earlier—into the universe from the far side because the moon itself will block interfering radio signals from Earth.

From the far side, scientists may eventually be able to peer back to 50 million to 100 million years after the Big Bang, when the first stars were born—or even earlier, he said.

China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, following Russia and the U.S. It has put two space stations into orbit and plans to launch a Mars rover in the mid-2020s. Its space program suffered a rare setback last year with the failed launch of its Long March 5 rocket.

"Building a space power is a dream that we persistently pursue," said Wu Weiren, the chief designer of the China Lunar Exploration Project, speaking with CCTV at the Beijing Aerospace Flight and Control Center. "And we're gradually realizing it."


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Jan 03, 2019
Stinking Commies.

The moon belongs to America.


Jan 03, 2019
.... and America belongs to us, said Walmart.

Jan 03, 2019
I say Kudo's to the Chinese... Maybe this will give America the kick in the pants it needs to get back in the game...

Jan 03, 2019
Ahh, yes. "King of the Hill" Such fun when all us neighborhood boys got together to beat up & toss around one another. For the glory of ascending a mound of dirt, while shoving & pushing down our competitors.

Cause that is what is important in life... Never maturing, forever remaining perpetual peter pans,

Frankly & Ernestly. I find these childish motivations to be a tedious bore.

Jan 03, 2019
V4 is being sarcastic, you dopes, lol.

Jan 03, 2019
So what do they hope to learn or gain that the US hasn't learned already? Bragging rights, or just trying to catch up?

Jan 03, 2019
"A photo taken at 11:40 a.m. and sent back by Chang'e 4 shows a small crater and a barren surface that appears to be illuminated by a light from the lunar explorer."

A light from the explorer? Why would they need a light in full sunlight?


Jan 03, 2019
Now these Chinese are on the darkside

Setting up paddy fields
undercover from prying eyes
in greenhouses
with floating mirrors
reflecting sunlight
on this darkside
their devilish
Chinese inscrutable plan
to export Darkside rice
because
this darkside regolith
is rich in vitamins
soon
before the Americans realise
they spent all their hard earned tax dollars on this wall
a wall that leaks as only a sieve leaks
the Chinese will have millions of coolies farming these paddy fields
as when the Americans having frittered their dollars on this pervious wall
when their down to the last groat
these darkside coolies
in their millions will feed these down trodden American tax payers
and relieve them of their last groat
then
this moon
this darkside
will host the victorious Chinese flag
Then this moon will be Chinese

Jan 03, 2019
"... Why would they need a light in full sunlight? ..."

For contrast, would be why I would do it.
Perhaps there are sharp shadows from boulders or crater walls. they want to see into?
& no atmosphere to soften reflected glare?

Jan 03, 2019
Oh granny! That was a purty funny paddywhacking!

When we look up into the night sky? Will we have to call it MoonChine?

Jan 03, 2019
This means so many cool things for the world!

Imagine the low-g, interference-free radio telescopes that could be built on the far side! Imagine what we could learn about the selenology of the moon, and what minerals it might have!

Jan 03, 2019
On this full MoonChine
rrwillsj> Oh granny! That was a purty funny paddywhacking!

When we look up into the night sky? Will we have to call it MoonChine?

Our China Moon
Nice one, rrwillsj.

Jan 03, 2019
On this full MoonChine
These inscrutable's are hatching their plan

< Physics world:- The lander contains several scientific instruments and a sealed "biosphere" containing plant seeds and insect eggs that scientists hope will hatch. The probe also has a rover that will explore the lunar surface.
The mission will also monitor low-frequency radio signals from space to establish whether the far side of the Moon is a good place to do radio astronomy >
https://physicswo...he-moon/

This Chinese inscrutable plan is actually taking place as we speak
as they are preparing their sealed "biosphere" containing plant seeds and insect eggs
Which their hatching as we speak

Jan 04, 2019
Lacking in the specific knowledge of Space Telescope technology?

I am uncertain if planting radio telescopes on the rearend of the Moon would be viable?
No atmosphere or magnetosphere for protection? Getting blasted directly from the Sun a couple of weeks a month. & cosmic radiation all the time.

Dealing with constant infalling of space debris?
That crap doesn't even have to land close to spray out shrapnel in all directions!

I bet, that eventually if funding, with political or private support, is found? That they will decide the best & safest locations will be in Lunar Polar craters.

Jan 04, 2019
Nice! The Swedish-Chinese instrument ASAN is mounted on the rover and will be used to observe how charged particles from the Sun interact with the lunar surface - the second Swedish instrument type to land on the Moon after the Hasselblad cameras Apollo used [ https://www.irf.s...a-manen/ ],

So what do they hope to learn or gain that the US hasn't learned already? Bragging rights, or just trying to catch up?


How are they "catching up"? As the article describes they have surpassed US technology and know how - with lunar backside relay satellite, backside autonomous landing, lunar rover et cetera. And they are definitely much more open for international cooperation *their* first time around the Moon.

The backside and especially the South Polar Aitken is interesting as older surfaces, and the backside optical/radio astronomy too. Too bad they won't do sample return from there, it would help date the impact record!

Jan 04, 2019
I am uncertain if planting radio telescopes on the rearend of the Moon would be viable?
No atmosphere or magnetosphere for protection? Getting blasted directly from the Sun a couple of weeks a month. & cosmic radiation all the time.


The various orbital or remote telescopes are viable, and the Moon placement will cut the cosmic radiation dose 50 %. I don't think there are any specific problems, but if you want you can consider the small telescope on Chang'e 4 as a test (as I am fairly sure it is seen by the radio telescope community).

Jan 04, 2019
bjorn, thanks for the explanations you have provided.

Any evidence for long-term survival of Lunar bound robots will be a big step forward for all our ambitions.

rgw
Jan 06, 2019
"There is no dark side
of the moon really.
Matter of fact
it's all dark."

"Eclipse", the tenth and final track on Pink Floyd's 1973 'Dark side of the Moon'"

Jan 07, 2019
Anyone knows where can we find more raw images from this mission?
Why are they so stingy with it?

Jan 09, 2019
great achievement nonetheless

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