Chinese state media has announced that the unmanned Chang’e-4 probe has successfully landed on the far side of the moon. This is the first ever attempt at such a landing and is being considered a major milestone in space exploration, especially for the China National Space Administration (CNSA); which is much younger and less experienced than its American and Russian counterparts.
Numerous previous missions to the moon have landed on the side facing Earth, but until now the far side of the moon has remained unexplored.
The probe touched down at 10:26am Beijing time, landing on the moon’s South Pole-Aitken (SPA) Basin. The Chang’e-4 has also sent back pictures from the moon’s surface, which have been shared with state media. All pictures and data have to be bounced off a separate satellite before being relayed to Earth, as no direct radio link can be established with objects on this side of the moon.
The Chang’e-4 was launched from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China on December 7 and arrived in lunar orbit on December 12. It aims to study the Von Kármán crater, which is located inside the much larger SPA Basin. It is thought this crater came into existence as a result of a giant impact early in the moon’s history. The structure is 2,500 kilometers in diameter and 13 kilometers deep. The CNSA also hopes to study parts of sheets of rock that would have filled the SPA Basin following the impact that created it, and identify variations in its composition.
Scientists also believe that the far side of the moon would be an appropriate place to perform radio astronomy as it is shielded from radio noise from Earth. This idea will be tested using a spectrometer which will perform low-frequency radio astronomy observations.
The Chang’e-4 also carries a 3 kilogram container carrying potato and arabidopsis plant seeds, along with silkworm eggs to perform a biological study called the “lunar mini biosphere” experiment, which was jointly designed by 28 Chinese universities.
This mission is part of a larger Chinese program of lunar exploration. The first and second Chang’e missions were designed to gather data from orbit, while the third and fourth were built for surface operations.