Scientists say China’s Yutu-2 rover, part of the Chang’E-4 mission, has found several small glass globules on the Moon’s far side. While tiny glass beads have been found previously in lunar samples brought back by the Apollo astronauts, the ones found by Yutu-2 are much bigger and translucent.
The discovery was made by Dr. Zhiyong Xiao, one of the lead scientific team members of the Chang’E-4 mission. They beads were found by looking at panoramic images taken by the rover. Since the rover doesn’t have sampling capabilities and is not a sample return mission like it’s older sibling, the Chang-E-5 mission, there is no compositional data on the glass beads, only observational evidence.
We’re never able to see the far side of the moon from the Earth, but that doesn’t mean it’s that different. Recently rovers and satellites have started exploring the lesser-known side of the moon. They found a slightly different geology than that discovered on the near side, which might have implications for navigating the far side in the future.
It’s no secret that China has become a major contender when it comes to spaceflight. In the past twenty years, the China National Space Agency (CNSA) has accomplished some historic firsts. This includes sending astronauts to space, deploying three space stations (as part of the Tiangong program), developing heavy launch vehicles (like the Long March 5), and sending robotic explorers to the far side of the Moon and Mars.
Looking ahead to the next decade and beyond, China is planning on taking even bolder steps to develop its space program. Among the many proposals the country’s leaders are considering for its latest 5-year plan, one involved creating an “ultra-large spacecraft spanning kilometers.” Having this spacecraft in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) would be a game-changer for China, allowing for long-duration missions and the utilization of space resources.
In January 2019, China landed its Chang’e 4 mission on the Moon’s far side. The Yutu-2 rover got busy exploring its surroundings. It’s still going, even though the rover’s nominal operating mission was only three months.
Among the mission’s findings was a strange material described as “gel-like.” Now an analysis of the material has revealed that it’s just rock: impact melt breccia.
On July 2, 2019, the Moon cast its shadow on the surface of the Earth. This time, the shadow’s path travelled across the South Pacific Ocean. It also passed over some of Argentina and Chile. For surface dwellers in the path, the Moon briefly blocked the Sun, turning night into day.
But for one “eye” in orbit around the Moon, the view was different. A camera on a tiny satellite watched as the circular shadow of the Moon moved over the Earth’s surface.
Ever since it made its historic landing on Jan. 3rd, 2019, the Chang’e-4 mission and its Yutu 2 rover have been busy exploring the lunar surface. Just recently, the mission passed its first year of operations and earned the distinction of being the first rover to travel a record 357.695 meters (1,173.5 ft) on the far side of the Moon. And in between all that, the mission has also provided some truly fascinating images of the lunar surface.
China greeted the New Year with some impressive lunar milestones. For starters, last Friday (Jan. 3rd) was the first anniversary of the Chang’e-4 mission becoming the first robotic mission to make a landing on the far side of the Moon. A day prior, the Yutu-2 rover also celebrated the end of its 13th lunar day of science operations and the fact that it was the first rover to travel a record 357.695 meters (1,173.5 ft) on the far side of the Moon.
On January 3rd, 2019, China’s Chang’e-4 lander became the first mission in history to make a soft-landing on the far side of the Moon. After setting down in the Von Karman Crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin, the rover element of the mission (Yutu 2) deployed and began exploring the lunar surface. In that time, the rover has traveled a total of 345.059 meters (377 yards) through previously unexplored territory.
The Chang’e-4 mission, the fourth installment in the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program, has made some significant achievements since it launched in December of 2018. In January of 2019, the mission lander and its Yutu 2 (Jade Rabbit 2) rover became the first robotic explorers to achieve a soft landing on the far side of the Moon. Around the same time, it became the first mission to grow plants on the Moon (with mixed results).
In the latest development, the Netherlands-China Low Frequency Explorer (NCLE) commenced operations after a year of orbiting the Moon. This instrument was mounted on the Queqiaocommunications satellite and consists of three 5-meter (16.4 ft) long monopole antennas that are sensitive to radio frequencies in the 80 kHz – 80 MHz range. With this instrument now active, Chang’e-4 has now entered into the next phase of its mission.
On May 20th, 2018, the China National Space Agency (CNSA) launched the Queqiao spacecraft, the vehicle that would deliver the Chang’e-4mission to the Moon. This vehicle was also responsible for transporting a lesser-known mission to the Moon, known as the Longjiang twin spacecraft. This package consisted of two satellites designed to fly in formation and validate technologies for low-frequency radio astronomy.
While Queqiao flew beyond the Moon to act as a communications relay for the Chang’e-4 lander, the Longjiang satellites were to enter orbit around the moon. On July 31st, 2019, after more than a year in operation, the Longjiang-2 satellite deorbited crashed on the lunar surface. And thanks to efforts spacecraft tracker Daniel Estévez and his colleagues, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) was able to photograph the impact site.