August 19, 2019

Chang’e-4: First panoramic images from China moon lander

Chang’e-4: First panoramic images from China moon lander

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Image caption

Cylinder projection of Von Kármán crater from one of the lander’s cameras

The Chinese space agency has released its first panoramic image of the lunar location where it landed spacecraft this month.

The picture shows parts of the static lander and the robotic rover, which is now exploring the landing site at Von Kármán crater on the Moon’s far side.

The Chang’e-4 mission was the first such attempt to touch down on the side of the Moon that we don’t see.

The rover has just awoken from a period on “standby”.

Controllers placed it in this mode shortly after the touchdown as a precaution against high temperatures, as the Sun rose to its highest point over the landing site.

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Azimuth projection of the landing site from one of the cameras on Chang’e-4’s lander

Those temperatures were expected to reach around 200C. But the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) said that the Yutu 2 rover, its lander and the relay satellite were all in a “stable condition”.

CLEP, which released the images, said in a statement: “Researchers completed the preliminary analysis of the lunar surface topography around the landing site based on the image taken by the landing camera.”

Chinese state television has also apparently released a picture from Yutu 2 of the static lander.

In contrast with previous images from the landing site, the panoramic image has been colour-corrected by Chinese researchers to better reflect the colours we would see if we were standing there.

Online commentators had pointed out that these earlier, unprocessed images made the lunar landscape look reddish – a far cry from the gunpowder grey landscapes familiar from other missions to the surface.

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Raw images made the lunar surface appear red; the new images have been calibrated

In an article for The Conversation, Prof Dave Rothery, from the Open University in Milton Keynes, observed: “In the raw version, the lunar surface looks red because the detectors used were more sensitive to red than they were to blue or green.”

Chang’e-4 was launched from Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in China on 7 December. It touched down at 10:26 Beijing time (02:26 GMT) on 3 January. This is the first mission to explore the Moon’s far side from the surface.

Because of a phenomenon called “tidal locking”, we see only one face of the Moon from Earth. This is because the Moon takes just as long to rotate on its own axis as it takes to complete one orbit of Earth.

The far side is more rugged, with a thicker, older crust that is pocked with more craters. There are also very few of the “maria” – dark basaltic “seas” created by lava flows – that are evident on the more familiar near side.

The rover and lander are carrying instruments to analyse the unexplored region’s geology.

Space News reported that the rover would be put into a dormant state on 12 January, to coincide with the lunar night-time, when temperatures could drop to around -180C.

During this time, the rover would have limited functions.

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