China launches probe to explore dark side of Moon

China launches probe to explore dark side of Moon

China launched its Chang'e 4 lander and rover today from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, as part of a mission that hopes to land on the far side of the Moon.

The probe, the Chang'e-4, is expected to make the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the Moon, according to Xinhua. The other face, most of which can not be seen from earth, is called the far side or dark side, not because it's dark, but because most of it remains unknown.

The tasks of the Chang'e-4 probe include low-frequency radio astronomical observation, surveying the terrain and landforms, detecting the mineral composition, and measuring the neutron radiation and neutral atoms to study the environment on the far side of the moon, Xinhua quoted the China National Space Administration as saying.

On board is a lander which, if all goes smoothly, will soon make history by touching down on the far side of the Moon. Although the far side is hidden from our sight, it's not exactly luna incognita: The territory has been mapped extensively by a host of robotic missions, plus the crewed Apollo missions.

It was not until 1959 that the Soviet Union captured the first images of the heavily cratered surface, uncloaking some of the mystery of the moon´s "dark side".

Von Kármán crater is of interest to scientists because it is located within the oldest and largest impact feature on the Moon - the South Pole-Aitken Basin.

China launched its Queqiao satellite earlier this year in order to communicate with the lander and rover.

No lander or rover has ever touched the surface there, positioning China as the first nation to explore the terrain.

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Months before launch, China's Xinhua news agency reported that Chang'e-4 might also be carrying a "lunar mini-biosphere" containing potato seeds and mustard seeds as well as silkworm eggs.

China launches Chang'e-4 lunar probe in the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province, Dec. 8, 2018.

An artist's conception shows the Chang'e-4 rover on the lunar surface.

During the lunar night - which lasts 14 earth days - temperatures will drop as low as minus 173 degrees Celsius (minus 279 Fahrenheit).

The rover´s instruments must withstand those fluctuations and it must generate enough energy to sustain it during the long night.

China has promoted global cooperation in its lunar exploration program, with four scientific payloads of the Chang'e-4 mission developed by scientists from Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Saudi Arabia.

"Our country´s successful lunar exploration project not only vaults us to the top of the world´s space power ranks, it also allows the exploration of the far side of the moon", said Niu Min, an expert on China´s space programme.

China plans to launch Chang'e 5 next year, a mission to return samples from the Moon.

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