China's Chang'e-4 lander, Yutu-2 rover resume experiments on the moon's far side

In weeks to come, the lander and rover are tasked with infrared imaging of an unusual pit and surrounding soil near the landing site.

China’s Chang’e-4 lander and the Yutu 2 lunar rover that flew aboard have resumed their activities on the ‘far side’ of the Moon as of a few days ago. The pair "woke up" on their 19th lunar working day to study a new crater the space agency has set its eyes on. While Yutu 2 woke up on 14 June on the Von Karman crater, the lander began its activities 13 hours later.

Chang’e-4 has now spent over 530 days on Earth’s only natural satellite, as per a statement by the China Lunar Exploration Project. The spacecraft had made a successful soft landing on the far side of the moon on 3 January 2019.

"The scientific load carried by the two devices will be turned on as planned, and scientific exploration work will continue," the report announced.

The Chang'e 4 lander imaged by Yutu 2, released in May 2020. Image: CLEP

The Chang'e 4 lander imaged by Yutu 2, released in May 2020. Image: CLEP

In its exploration of the moon's surface, Chang’e-4 has revealed the "geological stratification" structure of its landing site – the Von Kármán crater, a bowl-shaped depression around 180 kilometers in diameter, in the southern hemisphere of the moon's far side. The mission has described the composition of the material in this area and a theory about its evolution for the very first time.

On the 17th lunar day of operations, the rover found a nearby crater with a small diameter of about 1.3 meters and a depth of not more than 20 centimeters. A mere 3 metres away (southwest) of where the Yutu-2 rover currently is, the centre of this mini-crater was made of a material that was highly-reflective, unlike the brightness of the moon soil around it. In the month to come, the lander and rover have been tasked with infrared imaging experiments of the pit and surrounding soil.

Chang'e 4 lander (right) and Yutu 2 rover (left) imaged by NASA's LRO in January 2020. Image: NASA/GSFC

Chang'e 4 lander (right) and Yutu 2 rover (left) imaged by NASA's LRO in January 2020. Image: NASA/GSFC

In December 2018, China had become the first country to successfully soft land a spacecraft to the far side of the moon. The far side, unlike the moon's ever-visible and well-illuminated bright side, remains largely unexplored as it faces away from the Earth in a tidal-lock for as long as scientists have observed the rocky satellite. The far side gets roughly the same amount of sunlight as the near side does, but the terrain is much more rugged and rocky in comparison. The near side is largely filled with flat plains.

Controlling any device from Earth becomes tricky on the far side, where there isn't a direct line-of-sight for communication satellites to pick up data. China, however, successfully managed to overcome that hurdle by launching a communication relay satellite 'Queqiao' into a purpose-built orbit around the moon & Earth in May 2018.

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