The first on-land photos of the far side of the moon (famously referred to as the dark side of the moon) have now been sent to Earth by the Chang’e 4 lunar spacecraft, marking a historic moment for China’s space program.
Named after the Chinese Goddess of the Moon
, the Chang’e 4 made its official landing at 10:26 a.m. Beijing time on Thursday near the moon’s south pole, according to the China National Space Administration state-run news agency Xinhua
This historic moment marks the first time a spacecraft has made a soft-landing on the uncharted side of the moon, invisible from the Earth.
The spacecraft, which has a lander and a rover, was launched on top of a Long March 3B carrier rocket on Dec. 8 at the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in Sichuan province. The Chang’e 4 entered the lunar orbit four days later after its launch, South China Morning Post
Aside from its home-grown equipment, the Chang’e 4 also has four scientific payloads developed by scientists from other countries including the Netherlands, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and Sweden.
The Chang’e 4 was landed within the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin, the moon’s largest, deepest, and oldest impact structure, according to Long Xiao, a planetary geoscientist at China University of Geosciences in Wuhan. It was noted in the report that measurements of gravity and depth of the region suggest that the huge impact that happened may have exposed the moon’s mantle.
China National Space Administration is hoping to understand the environment on the dark side of the moon with the aid of the probe, the tasks of which include “astronomical observation using low-frequency radio; surveying the terrain and land forms; detecting the mineral composition and shallow lunar surface structure; and measuring neutron radiation and neutral atoms,” according to the report.
On top of this, 28 universities in China, all led by Chongqing University, will conduct experiments involving the cultivation of vegetables and flowers in airtight containers within the spacecraft.
Data gathered by the project may reveal information about the history of the basin. Specifically, scientists hope to study the composition of the sheet of melted rock that filled the basin right after it was formed, and possibly even the upper-mantle materials of the moon.
China will return to the moon in 2020 using the Chang’e 5 spacecraft that will perform lunar surveys and collect samples from the lunar surface and return them to Earth.