China’s Rover Checks out that Weird Cube on the Moon. Surprise! It’s a Rock.

Back in early December 2021, China’s Yutu 2 rover made headlines when it spied what looked like a curious cube-shaped object on the Moon’s surface. Of course, speculations ran rampant. And it didn’t help matters any when the China National Space Administration (CNSA) nicknamed the object the “mystery hut.”

An update today from Yutu’s cameras reveals the true nature of this object. Yup, it’s just a rock. And not very cube-shaped, either.

A close-up view of the ‘mystery’ rock seen by the Yutu rover. Credit: CNSA.

Several planetary geologists and astronomers had logically predicted the object was likely a just bright colored, blocky boulder sitting on the edge of a crater rim. Orbital images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter didn’t show anything out of the ordinary – rocks and more rocks on a cratered lunar surface. The perceived cube shape might have been just a pixelated view of a distant object.

But, “just a rock” doesn’t mean it’s not interesting. An odd-shaped, bright chunk of rock sitting on the edge of a crater likely has an interesting history, geologically speaking.

Orbital view from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) of the Chang’e 4 lander (in square) and the ‘mystery hut’ object (arrow) on the edge of a crater about 260 feet (80 meters) away. Location of the object was possibly verified by space journalist Andrew Jones on Twitter. Image via NASA/ GSFC/ Arizona State University/ LROC. Image notation via EarthSky

Journalist Andrew Jones has been tracking China’s space endeavors closely and posted this update today:

The Chinese website OurSpace publishes its “Yutu No. 2 Driving Diary,” a journal of the rover’s travels. The site is affiliated with CNSA, and it explained how the rover traversed the estimated 80 meters (262 feet) to take a better picture of the “hut.”

“Far away in the sky, the “mysterious hut” as tall as the Arc de Triomphe turned out to be very small when approached,” wrote the very poetic scientists who write on Our Space. “The drivers were a little disappointed. Just as everyone was lost, a driver stared at the enlarged picture and covered his mouth and exclaimed: “Gosh! This is… Yutu!”

The original view from China’s Yutu 2 rover of the “mysterious hut” on the Moon. Credit: CNSA.

The site then goes on to say now the rock is named “Jade Rabbit,” since it looks like “a rabbit about to eat, and the picture was so witty that I couldn’t help but laugh. Is this well-behaved “rabbit” a foreigner or a resident of Moonback? How many years has it been waiting here? Was the fantasy of the “mysterious house” on the horizon just its calling? Is all this fate or coincidence?”

Yutu has been slowly roving across the lunar surface since landing in Von Kármán crater on the far side of the moon on January 3, 2019. The Our Space site notes that as of January 6, 2022 , Yutu’s cumulative mileage finally exceeded the 1,000-meter mark, reaching reached 1003.9 meters by the time it reached the rock.

Lead image caption: The view of the mystery rock on the edge of the crater from a short distance, as seen by the Yutu lunar rover. Credit: CNSA.