The first rover ever to visit the far side of the moon has revealed a layer of lunar dust up to 12 meters deep. The rover and its lander, which sits in the moon’s Von Kármán crater, are part of China’s Chang’E‒4 mission. Their landing there on January 3rd, 2019 marked the first time any spacecraft had ever visited the far side of the moon without crashing. The rover measured the moon’s surface dust with radar for the first time, and researchers from China and Italy described the results in a paper published in the journal Science Advances. Lunar dust, also called regolith, is a talc-like substance of pulverized rock and dust that settled after asteroids bombarded the moon’s surface billions of years ago. The Chang’E‒4 findings confirm that this dust also coats the far side of the moon, in a layer that the scientists described as “quite thick.” According to the authors of the paper, the extensive use of the Chang’E‒4 radar could greatly improve our understanding of the history of lunar impact and volcanism and could shed new light on the comprehension of the geological evolution of the moon's far side. That understanding will be key for future missions to the moon. Lunar dust can cloud a spacecraft’s instruments as it approaches the moon’s surface, raising the risk of failure.
A rendering of a lunar rover for China’s Chang’e-4 (CE-4) moon landing mission. (Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation).
Chang’e-4 (CE-4) lunar mission inside an ancient crater located on the far side of the moon. (Credit: Shayanne Gal/Business Insider).
Communication with Chang'e-4 on the Moon’s far side (Credit: Loren Roberts for The Planetary Society).
The first images from the Chang’e-4 lander on the far side of the Moon showing the South Pole-Aitken Basin and the rover making its first journey (Credit: CLEP/Imaginechina/Shutterstock).
- China’s Chang’E‒4 (CE‒4) is a robotic spacecraft mission, part of the second phase of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program.
- “Chang’E” (Chinese: 嫦娥四号; pinyin: Cháng'é Sìhào) is the name of a mythical lunar goddess.
- The numeral “4” signifies the fourth robotic mission in China’s ambitious quest to explore the moon.
- CE‒4 achieved humanity’s first soft landing on the far side of the Moon, on 3rd January 2019.
- CE‒4 landed on the eastern floor of Von Kármán crater within the South Pole–Aitken Basin.
- Von Kármán crater has symbolic as well as scientific value because Theodore von Kármán was the PhD advisor of Qian Xuesen, the founder of the Chinese space program.
- No other nation has ever touched the far side of the moon.
Li C, Su Y, Pettinelli E, Xing S, Ding C, Liu J, Ren X, Lauro SE, Soldovieri F, Zeng X, Gao X. 2020. The Moon’s farside shallow subsurface structure unveiled by Chang’E‒4 Lunar Penetrating Radar. Science advances. 6:eaay6898. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay6898
Wikipedia contributors. 2020. Chang’e 4. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 15, 2020.
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