China's landing of a probe on the far side of the Moon at the beginning of the year was a landmark moment for space exploration, and after operating in the dark for a little while new images are now starting to show its rover at work.
China's Chang'e-4 probe successfully descended to the Moon's surface on January 3, marking the first time a spacecraft had been deployed on our satellite's far side. Given the difficulty in communicating with this region of the Moon, as all radio contact with Earth is blocked, this was a monumental achievement for science, but really the work is just beginning.
The spacecraft's rover, named Yutu 2, left the rover behind and took off to explore its surroundings on January 6. Both vehicles are located in the Moon's 2,500-km wide (1,550-mi) South Pole–Aitken basin, and more specifically, the Von Kármán Crater, a large impact crater inside the basin around 180 km wide (111 mi).
Here the rover will be the first robot to ever explore this region from the ground, and will search its shadowy areas for signs of ancient water deposits. It is hoped the mission can also uncover new clues about the makeup of the lunar crust and mantle, improving our understanding of how the Moon came to be.
The new photos from China's National Space Administration show both the lander and rover components of the spacecraft getting settled into their new home, and the rover taking off into the distance. The set of images, triumphantly titled "Wonderful Gallery" on the agency's website, also include a shot of the Chang'e-4 lander taken from the Yutu 2 rover as its sets off across the crater, seen above.
Following the success of this trailblazing mission, China is now setting its sights on more pioneering space exploration, as reported by The Washington Post. This starts with another mission to the Moon this year called Chang'e-5, which hopes to collect samples from its surface for the first time since 1976. It also hopes to establish a Moon base called "Heavenly Palace" by 2022, and launch a mission to Mars as early as next year.
A newly released video shared by The Planetary Society also shows Chang'e-4's historic descent into the Von Kármán crater, captured by its Landing Camera on January 3. You can check it out below.
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