China's Lunar Probe Prepares For Historic Landing on the Dark Side of the Moon

Monday, 31 December 2018 - 10:04AM
Moon
Monday, 31 December 2018 - 10:04AM
China's Lunar Probe Prepares For Historic Landing on the Dark Side of the Moon
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Composite adapted from Pixabay images
A couple of weeks ago, China reached a major milestone as its Chang'e-4 lander and rover entered the moon's orbit. Ending 2018 on a high note, Chinese news outlets are reporting that Chang'e-4 has now moved into landing position, bringing it one step closer to being the first mission to the dark side of the moon.

Reuters says that on Sunday December 30, the news agency XinhuaNet cited the China National Space Administration in a report announcing that Chang'e-4 had moved into an elliptical lunar orbit to "to prepare for the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon." The position shift brought the probe within 15km (9.3 miles) of the surface of the moon, which is the closest it has been since it was launched into space on December 8. The status update comes 18 days after the probe first entered the moon's orbit, but there is still no word on an official landing date. XinhuaNet reports that the space agency will "choose a proper time to land the probe on the far side of the moon," but it is unclear if those details will be shared before the landing happens or if the rest of the world will have to wait to hear if China was successful.

As has been previously explained, the dark side of the moon is not a frigid place devoid of light-it is only the dark side to us because the moon is tidally locked to Earth, thus we only ever see one part of it. The part we can't see is hard to study because you can't beam data through the rock and back to our planet, which is why China has a relay satellite in place. If the mission is a success, Chang'e-4 will begin several scientific tasks on the moon in 2019, including "low-frequency radio astronomical observation, surveying the terrain and landforms, detecting the mineral composition and shallow lunar surface structure, and measuring the neutron radiation and neutral atoms to study the environment on the far side of the moon," XinhuaNet explains. As of now its anyone's guess as to the timeline of those observations and measurements.
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Space
Moon