The first robot to land on the far side of the Moon released breathtaking panoramic images of its new home on Friday.
China’s Chang’e 4 spacecraft, which made a historic touchdown on January 3 (Beijing time), used its terrain camera to take 360 degree shots of its location in Von Kármán crater.
The mission’s Yutu 2 rover is visible in some of the images, having successfully rolled onto the lunar surface about 12 hours after its mothership landed. The Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) also released two new pictures that Chang’e 4 and Yutu 2 snapped of each other.
In addition to the new shots from the surface, CLEP published otherworldly footage of the target region as the spacecraft descended and prepared to touch down.
These captivating views are humanity’s first up-close look at an under-explored lunar face. Because the Moon is tidally locked to Earth—meaning its rotation period roughly equals its orbital period—one side of our satellite is always oriented toward us while the other side faces away. That’s why we’re so accustomed to familiar lunar features like the Man on the Moon, or the Moon Rabbit in Chinese culture.
Humans have landed dozens of probes on the near side of the Moon, but Chang’e 4 is the first spacecraft to achieve a touchdown on the far side. It’s a harder feat because on the far side, the Moon is in the way of direct communication with Earth, making it necessary to install a relay system for passing messages to mission control. China uses a special satellite, called Queqiao, as the link between Chang’e 4 and Beijing.
Chang’e 4 is equipped with radar, cameras, and spectrometers for studying the far side of the Moon. The lander also carries a small biosphere experiment that will monitor the development of silkworm larvae and mustard plants.
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