China has successfully begun a new space age with the landing of its Change-4 lunar rover in the Von Karman crateron the dark side of the moon.
The probe landed at 10.26am Beijing time on Thursday 3 January, and immediately sent a photo of the dark side of the moon to the Queqiao satellite, which relays communications between controllers on Earth and the rover.
The lunar far side is often referred to as the dark side because it cannot be seen directly from Earth, owing to the moon’s rotation and orbit. Previously, other spacecraft have taken photos of the moon's far side from orbit, but this is the first time a rover has landed.
The Von Karman crater, where Chang’e landed, is located within a huge basin, over 2500km in diameter and 13km deep.The event responsible for forming the basin makes it highly important for scientific research.
Chang'e-4 is carrying six experiments from China and four from abroad. A suite of instruments is designed to characterise the region's geology and undertakelow-frequency radio astronomical studies, taking advantage of the lack of interference on the far side.
Also on board are seeds of potato and arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard, as well as half a dozen silkworm eggs.
The biological specimens are housed in a 3km aluminium container. Combined with air, water, and a special nutrient solution, the container is a complete ecosystem, allowing scientists to study the development of lifeforms on the moon.
Despite worldwide interest in the achievement, the news attracted little attention in China, and was not even among the top four news stories.As with previous space programs in the USA and Russia, some people have questioned the cost of the mission.
The mission will be followed later this year by the Chang’e-5 mission, the first of two missions aiming to return lunar samples to Earth.