NASA Takes Amazing Shot Of China’s Chang’e-4 Lander On Moon’s Far Side

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Oh hi there! The white arrows indicate the position of the Chang’e-4 lander.NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

When humanity’s space-based robotic ambassadors take photographs of each other, it fills me with such an overwhelming sense of optimism. Sure, it’s a bit of fun, but there’s something decidedly more profound about such shenanigans. When two metallic contraptions sent out there into the cold wave to each other before going back to the indisputably noble pursuit of planetary science, it highlights our species’ ingenuity in such a simple, elegant manner.

The latest addition to this exhilarating game of cosmic hide-and-seek is China’s Chang’e-4 lander, currently sneaking around on the Moon’s far side within the Von Kármán crater, and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). As reported by a recent blog post, the LRO – which has been hanging out in a lunar orbit for a decade now – spotted Chang’e-4 on January 30th, and it took an utterly jaw-dropping shot of its landing site.

To LRO, zooming around high above the lunar surface, the car-sized Chang’e-4 lander is pretty much indistinguishable from the desolation around it. In fact, it’s just two pixels across in this shot. To give you a better sense of scale, the crater you can see just to the left of the rover is 3,900 metres (12,800 feet) across, and 600 metres (1,970 feet) deep.

Without the aid of those white arrows, you’d probably never be able to spot it. If you click here, you can see a 141MB, full-resolution, zoomable shot of the Chinese robot’s landing site to really grasp how minuscule it is in the grand scheme of things.

Adorable.NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

The Von Kármán crater, in which the lander resides, is 186 kilometres (116 miles) across, but even that’s a pipsqueak compared to the crater that this pit itself sits in: the South Pole-Aitken basin, a truly colossal and ancient impact scar, is a staggering 2,500 kilometres (1,550 miles) across, and 8 kilometres (5 miles) deep. Forget landers: you could fit 6,250 New York Cities inside that gargantuan crater.

The Chang’e-4 rover, as seen from Yutu-2.CNSA

Recently, Chang’e-4 sent the very first panorama of the surface of the far side of the Moon back to us, and people were quite rightly blown away. There’s nothing quite like seeing an alien landscape from such a human-comparable perspective. Saying that, realising how small we all are when two space robots salute each other like this is a whole different kettle of perspective-transforming fish.

Stay tuned: after handling the unbelievably chilly temperatures of the lunar far side’s night-time with aplomb, Chang’e-4, and its rover, Yutu-2, are now getting started on their lunar science mission. Expect some pretty cool data, and more evocative imagery, to come our way soon.

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