China has just succeeded in landing a spacecraft on the far side of the moon. The landing of Chang’e 4 exhibits the nation’s growing abilities and also paves the way for new discoveries in the region of the moon that has remained unexplored.
Carle Pieters, a planetary scientist at Brown University, said, ‘This is a major accomplishment. This really opens up a whole part of the moon that hasn’t been explored in detail.” The Chang’e 4’s probe made contact at 10:26 am local time in Beijing at the South Pole-Aitken basin. The South Pole-Aitken basin is a big crater near the south pole of the moon. Soon after landing, the probe sent back its first photo of the moon’s surface and also sent out a small rover that will be roaming the landing area.
Chang’e 4 is not only equipped with a rover and cameras but also with a wide array of instruments that will help it to carry out terrain analysis including learning about the mineral composition. It also has fruit flies, yeast, and different kinds of green plants (including potatoes and cotton). It is the first time that life has existed on the planet ever since the famous Apollo astronauts in 1972.
Briony Horgan, assistant professor of Earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences at Purdue University, said, ‘I could imagine this kind of experiment providing important information on how agriculture might work on the moon for future human colonies.’
The Earth and the Moon are tidally locked. This means that the rotation of the moon is synchronized with that of Earth and thus one side of the moon is always facing the Earth. We call this side the near side and the other side is referred to as the far side of the moon. This would be the first time that a spacecraft has landed on the far side of the moon. The first glimpse of the far side was seen back in 1959 thanks to Soviet Luna 3 probe.
A planetary scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, Bradley Jolliff, said, ‘Geologically, there is a great dichotomy on the moon. This is a great mystery that has not been solved.’ Scientists are hopeful that the Chang’e 4 mission and the follow up will help them learn more about the far side of the moon. In fact, the planned Chang’e 5 will even attempt to bring some samples of the soil from the far side of the moon back to Earth.
The South Pole-Aitken basin, where Chang’e 4 landed, is one of the biggest and oldest impact craters on the moon. It is about 1,500 miles in width and runs for eight miles in depth. In fact, it is so deep that the mantle of the moon is thought to be exposed in it as well. Pieters said, ‘It’s larger than anything we have on the near side and rivals any basin on other planetary bodies.’ This has proven to be a great and exciting opportunity for scientists who are hopeful that they will be able to learn about the construction of the moon and Earth while learning in detail about the moon and making new discoveries as well.
What kind of discoveries are made, still remains to be seen. However, with this landmark landing China sure has made a bold statement; it is quickly progressing and becoming a space power as well!