NASA may have landed on the Moon decades ago, but that doesn’t mean we know all that much about our nearest celestial neighbor. We’re regularly learning new things as we stare at the lunar surface from Earth, and NASA and other space groups have sent various probes and orbiters to study it in greater detail than was possible.
Now, it’s China’s turn.
In a landing that lined up nicely with the new year, China’s Chang’e 4 touched down on the far side of the Moon and quickly deployed a rover that is now crawling along the surface. It’s the first time any country has accomplished such a feat on the Moon’s little-studied far side, and for China it’s a huge opportunity to contribute to space exploration as a whole.
In a recent blog post, China’s space agency CNSA confirmed that both the lander and the rover itself have established a data link. The rover, which was seen in early photos having just taken its first strides on the Moon, is shown moving farther away from the lander’s camera. CNSA says the radar and camera instruments are working as intended, but it has yet to test out some of its other high-tech tools.
The mission is expected to ramp up on January 10th, and CNSA’s engineers and scientists have plenty of work ahead of them. The rover will take samples of the Moon’s surface and relay data back to Earth, giving researchers a hint as to the age of the material and helping scientists paint a clearer picture of the formation of the Moon as well as Earth.
The mission also brought with it a pint-sized “biosphere” which will be used to study the effects of low gravity on Earth’s own organisms. Small silkworms and potato plants are housed in the enclosed unit, as well as oxygen and water. It’s a self-contained ecosystem, and scientists want to see what might happen to it over time.
It’s exciting times for Moon research, and at the moment China is leading the charge.