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China’s Lunar Lander Spotted by Orbiting Spacecraft

Image of Chang'e-3 (top arrow) and Yutu rover captured by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter on Dec. 25 UTC

Image of Chang’e-3 (top arrow) and Yutu rover captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter on Dec. 25 UTC

Not much on the Moon escapes the eyes of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and China’s Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu rover are no exception! The pair touched down on the lunar surface on Dec. 14, and just over a week later on Dec. 25 LRO acquired the image above, showing the lander and the 120-kg (265-lb) “Jade Rabbit” rover at their location near the Moon’s Sinus Iridum region.

The width of the narrow-angle camera image is 576 meters; north is up. LRO was about 150 km (93 miles) from the Chang’e-3 site when the image was acquired.

So how can we be so sure that those bright little specks are actually human-made robots and not just a couple of basaltic boulders? Find out below:

According to School of Earth and Space Exploration professor Mark Robinson’s description on Arizona State University’s LROC blog:

The rover is only about 150 cm wide, yet it shows up in the NAC images for two reasons: the solar panels are very effective at reflecting light so the rover shows up as two bright pixels, and the Sun is setting thus the rover casts a distinct shadow (as does the lander). Since the rover is close to the size of a pixel, how can we be sure we are seeing the rover and not a comparably sized boulder? Fortuitously, the NAC acquired a “before” image of the landing site, with nearly identical lighting, on 30 June 2013. By comparing the before and after landing site images, the LROC team confirmed the position of the lander and rover, and derived accurate map coordinates for the lander (44.1214°N, 340.4884°E, -2640 meters elevation).

Before-and-after LROC images of Chang'e-3's landing site

Before-and-after LROC images of Chang’e-3’s landing site: June 30 vs. Dec. 25, 2013

LRO circles the Moon in a polar orbit at an average altitude of 50 km (31 miles). The LROC instrument contains two narrow-angle camera heads (NACs) providing 0.5-meter/pixel panchromatic images over a 5-km swath, a wide-angle camera head (WAC) providing images at a scale of 100 meters in seven-color bands.

Both the Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu rover are reported to be in good health and performing well. The solar-powered rover went into sleep mode on Dec. 26 to wait out the 14-day lunar night, during which time the temperatures on the lunar surface can drop to -180ºC (-292ºF). Yutu’s radioisotope heat source will keep it from freezing, but it won’t be able to generate power from its solar arrays. (Source)

Read more on ASU’s LROC website, and check out Ken Kremer’s article featuring a video of Yutu’s rollout here.

Image credits: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

About 

A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • mobybrown December 30, 2013, 11:02 PM

    It’s just a shame that the shadows of the lander and the rover are falling the opposite way to everything else in this “photo”…

    • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE December 31, 2013, 12:11 AM

      The shadows look correct to me, but that’s because my mind sees craters in the photo, whereas your mind probably sees bumps – Crater Optical Illusion.

      P.S. Here’s a good example of this optical illusion from the Bad Astronomer:
      A lunar illusion you’ll flip over.

      • mobybrown January 1, 2014, 10:14 PM

        You mean my eyes have been lying to me all this time? Well I’ll be teaching THEM a lesson when I get home tonight. 4 hours of Jersey Shore here I come.

    • Jason Major December 31, 2013, 2:39 PM

      You’re seeing the craters as mounds.

  • Superluminal2 December 31, 2013, 12:08 AM

    The shadows are falling just the way they should be. Look at the boulders, their shadows are in the same direction as the lander and rover.

  • Aqua4U December 31, 2013, 1:01 AM

    Have you ever looked at craters and NOT been able to mentally ‘turn’ them into depressions? Instead they continue to look like mounds? This happens to me sometimes when I’m really tired, like after a long day’s work or hours of classifying craters.

    • Jason Major December 31, 2013, 2:38 PM

      It’s a common illusion.

  • Anothercoilgun December 31, 2013, 2:00 AM

    People here talk about shadows. Never mind the what is shown looks just like other tidy dot on that same picture. What makes one dot a lander and another a whatever? Why a few seconds of 280p footage of the rover, yet approaching 100 cgi representations? A convenient black out for 14 days so it can charge. Then why have nuclear batteries and the best lithium batteries money can buy. Why not put one of those power source to use to do a little night exploration and filming the earth at night along with any visible stars now that there is no bright lunar surface to contend with. 0 updates since day 1 and it will remain this way.

    • Charles Kafka December 31, 2013, 9:14 AM

      does anyone know why we haven’t been getting major wonderful updates from this?
      im really looking forward to the pictures coming from this thing.

      • Hug Doug January 4, 2014, 12:20 PM

        the Chinese have been VERY stingy with their data. we know they’ve taken a spectacular 360 degree mosaic, but the best view we have of that is a media camera’s video of it on a projection screen in the Chinese mission control. no raw data at all… which makes me glad that NASA is so free with their data. also both lander and rover are currently hibernating through the lunar night, hopefully we’ll get a few more pictures once they wake up.

        • Charles Kafka January 13, 2014, 7:44 PM

          hey, has anyone noticed the crater with the dome in it, just south of the landing site?
          (down being towards the bottom of the picture.)..
          just noticed it..

    • magnus.nyborg December 31, 2013, 11:17 AM

      No nuclear batteries, as explained elsewhere on this site, only nuclear heaters that prevent them from freezing over during the 14day long night.
      The batteries doesnt carry enough power to operate for that extended period of time, and although you would have to ask the chineese as to why they didnt bring more batteries I would suspect the total weight of the cargo was limited.

    • Hug Doug January 4, 2014, 12:21 PM

      we know one dot is a lander and the other is a rover because when the lander landed, the rover went off of it and traveled around and then south. they are both in the expected positions from the information the Chinese have released.

  • bridgebuilder78 December 31, 2013, 3:08 AM

    “Not much on the Moon escapes the eyes of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter”

    Then how come we have no photos of the so-called Apollo landing sites from orbit?

    • Vid December 31, 2013, 3:46 AM
      • bridgebuilder78 December 31, 2013, 9:40 AM

        Oh please. I see dots.

        • Olaf2 December 31, 2013, 8:39 PM

          DOTS? You even see the footprints and the rover tracks!

          • bridgebuilder78 December 31, 2013, 10:57 PM

            Wow, you see footprints and rover tracks from tiny dots?

          • Olaf2 January 1, 2014, 7:40 AM

            WOW you see my post from tiny dots?

        • paulosio . January 1, 2014, 5:55 PM

          http://www.universetoday.com/96480/flags-still-standing-at-several-apollo-landing-sites-on-the-moon/

          You can cleary see the rover tracks in those pictures. You actually see far more detail in these pictures than you see in the Yutu pictures in the article where you asked, “Then how come we have no photos of the so-called Apollo landing sites from orbit?”.

          Now you are provided with the pictures and they aren’t good enough. Typical conspiracy theorist. Whatever evidence is provided to you you will just ignore or find a way to argue away.

          You have a position and no matter what happens you wont change it. I imagine you are also incredibly ignorant of how impossible it would be to fake a lunar landing mission when nations around the world were tracking the missions with radio telescopes etc (including the Soviets). This is 1 of the many reasons the Soviets knew the missions were real and NEVER disputed them.

          Lets face it… Even if the pictures are super clear conspiracy theorists are going to say they are photoshopped. You still wouldn’t be happy and we both know it.

          Even if the Yutu rover went to the Apollo landing sights and sent back hi def pictures conspiracy theorists would try and say the Chinese were in Collusion with the American’s despite how absurd that would be… Either that or they’d try and claim the US somehow landed the hardware on the moon years after the Apollo missions without anyone noticing to try and cover up faking the landings.

          • bridgebuilder78 January 1, 2014, 8:30 PM

            Oh please, again with the dots plus some lines. Seriously? You can see the alleged rover tracks, footprints, and even the flag from all that? Seriously?!

          • M Peter Selman January 1, 2014, 9:34 PM

            Near the end of the video the Lunar Lander casts a long rectangular shadow. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5dtcdmjOaE

          • bridgebuilder78 January 1, 2014, 9:46 PM

            It’s all faked, you know that, right?

          • M Peter Selman January 1, 2014, 11:11 PM

            Please explain why the Apollo program did not occur in your eyes. What makes the video, if watched or examined carefully, unconvincing.

          • Charles Kafka January 7, 2014, 11:55 AM

            it’s all faked.
            even the internet..
            there’s a little miget in your computer typing..
            we had you fooled.

          • bridgebuilder78 January 7, 2014, 4:58 PM

            Now you are just being unreasonably curmudgeon. Time for some Metamucil.

            P.S. I had fun imagining you utter your comment without your dentures.

          • delphinus100 January 12, 2014, 10:34 AM

            (sigh) THIS is why we ultimately throw up our hands and ignore people such as yourself….

            Sorry, LRO wasn’t meant to get ‘intelligence-gathering’ level resolution of the Moon…and you’d still likely blow it off.

          • bridgebuilder78 January 12, 2014, 4:41 PM

            You mean people like me who don’t see Stars and Stripes and discrete footprints and track from tiny, black&white millimeter dots and lines?

          • paulosio . January 2, 2014, 11:29 PM

            http://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/images/627886main_M175252641LR_ap15.jpg

            (click image for larger clearer version)

            http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/LRO/news/apollo-15.html#.UsY6u_vuU0k

            You can’t see the rover tracks and the descent stage in that picture ? Get down to the optician’s buddy.

            I can clearly see double tracks running perfectly parallel to each other – which could only have come from something rolling across the surface – and the descent stage. I can see unidentifiable objects which don’t appear to be natural at the other annotated areas.

            The experts know the position of the flag etc in relation to the descent stage and rover tracks and can use this knowledge to identify these other less obvious objects for us.

            I never claimed to be able to see footprints in the link I gave. I wouldn’t expect to from a distance of a couple of hundred Km’s. You can however identify disturbed ground (such as around ALSEP in the picture). since you know where the rover tracks are and you know there aren’t little green men running around on the moons surface, what would you suggest caused that ?

            If it isn’t the descent stage, flag, rover etc then please enlighten us all as to what the objects are and what is leaving tracks on the moon that just happen to be exactly where the apollo landings were “alleged” to have taken place and just happen to lead upto all these other “dots”.

            Or perhaps you will now just give up on “Then how come we have no photos of the so-called Apollo landing sites from orbit?” and move onto conspiracy theorist default argument number 2… “The photos are photoshopped!”.

          • bridgebuilder78 January 3, 2014, 1:03 AM

            There are what appears to be lines and unidentified ‘unnatural’ dots in these photos, period. Nothing more and nothing less. To say these are somehow proof of a manned landing is really stretching it.

    • Asdf Ghjk December 31, 2013, 5:40 AM

      Oh but we do, it’s just that you conspiracy nuts will deny them.

      • Charles Kafka December 31, 2013, 9:12 AM

        i’m a “conspiracy nut”, and i’ve seen and acknowledged the pictures.
        keep in mind there are a lot of nit wits, and paid dis-informants out there.
        hopefully bridge builder, you are neither, and just made an honest slip.
        i’d download google earth, which comes with google moon, the apollo sites are all there.
        or just do a google search,
        there are some very indepth discussions on just that subject,
        comparing, rocks, craters, and nasa artifacts from apollo views on the ground, to the views from overhead.

        • Olaf2 December 31, 2013, 8:47 PM

          Stay away from the cool-aid!

          • Charles Kafka January 7, 2014, 12:16 PM

            why?
            anyway olaf squared, it’s too late for that, i’m already me.
            and you guys need people like me. :-)

    • Fred December 31, 2013, 4:04 PM

      @bridgebuilder I can’t make you believe what you don’t want to believe, although I feel bad for you that you are missing out on either being a part of or, at least, enjoying a true golden age of exploration. Do keep in mind, though, that three astronauts, Roger Chafee, Ed White, and Gus Grissom, died in the pursuit of the Moon. If you choose to believe the Apollo landings did not happen, so be it, but remember that each time you deny it, you are denigrating the memory of these three men and their families as well as the efforts of an estimated 400,000 people that worked on Apollo.

      • bridgebuilder78 December 31, 2013, 10:58 PM

        Golden Age of Naivety.

        • Fred January 2, 2014, 1:04 PM

          I saw what you did there: You took my phase “the golden age of exploration” and replaced the word “exploration” with “naivety.” That was very clever.

      • Charles Kafka January 1, 2014, 12:23 PM

        it’s good people question.
        to deny what is right in front of one’s face is kinda strange, and oft times annoying, but needed.
        asking the hard questions are better.
        sometimes someone questions the moon landings, i go back to check the details… going over old details never hurts.
        who knows the rest of us might learn something,
        it’s takes all kinds to make a solid body of truth. :-)

        • Fred January 2, 2014, 12:57 PM

          Charles,

          I agree that asking hard questions is important for both science and engineering. We would never advance without doing so. I also am quite certain I have some things I believe that are completely wrong. However, the trouble with conspiracy theories is that there is never an end. Where one person can prove (and I use that word purposely) that the Moon landings happened, another can continue to just talk about “dots.” If it were only that individual’s loss, I would feel bad for that person, but it would end there. However, there are two issues that concern me: 1) what I stated above and 2) that disinformation can breed other nonbelievers who, instead of using their minds to advance science and engineering, waste it by derided accomplishments of the past. I realize that the world gives us many reasons to be cynical and questioning, but humans actually do, from time to time, achieve greatness. The Moon landings are an example of this.

          • Charles Kafka January 7, 2014, 12:15 PM

            Agreed,
            But when NASA starts hiding data, then becomes cagey when asked about it, The secrecy fuels the conspiracy.
            There will always be “Flat Earthers”. There will always be people looking at moon pictures for angels or demons.
            The moon Clementine Mission, should have provided us with clear pictures of the entire moon. not the glared out at full noon, fall apart at the slightest magnification pictures they have available now.
            There will always be mysteries. If science and life has taught us anything, mysteries will always evolve into deeper mysteries, as we look into them.
            Lets face these mysteries head on.
            Let the people who dwell on the superstitions of old, well at least don’t give them a foot hold.

    • Jason Major January 2, 2014, 5:29 PM

      Actually LRO has imaged all of them. http://featured-sites.lroc.asu.edu

  • Charles Kafka December 31, 2013, 9:05 AM

    just found out that the science ship out to prove global warming got frozen in ice.
    it’s hard to believe anything these days,
    when one set of scientists outright lie for profit, it’s hard to believe the rest.
    but this is good news anyway.. posted,

    • delphinus100 January 12, 2014, 10:42 AM

      “…it’s hard to believe anything these days,…”

      But far too easy to believe nothing.

      Extreme cynicism can blind one to the fact that some things can be taken at face value, and are exactly what they seem to be. It’s the polar opposite of extreme ‘believe everything’ gullibility, and most truth is somewhere in between. Wisdom requires being aware of that.

  • Anothercoilgun December 31, 2013, 4:10 PM

    There you go laddie.

  • Anothercoilgun December 31, 2013, 4:11 PM

    A wee bit better.

  • UFOsMOTHER December 31, 2013, 6:47 PM

    Wow. that is just fantastic the before and after really hits home here brilliant

  • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE January 2, 2014, 1:09 PM

    Don’t believe your eyes: Checker shadow illusion.

  • Hug Doug January 4, 2014, 12:24 PM

    excellent, amazing achievement by the LRO

  • Charles Kafka January 13, 2014, 7:13 PM

    hey, has anyone noticed the crater with the dome in it, just south of the landing site?
    (down being towards the bottom of the picture.)..
    just noticed it.

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