The Dark Side of the Moon Looks Like...the Moon

"Congratulations to China's Chang'e-4 team for what appears to be a successful landing on the far side of the moon", he posted on Twitter.

While the world's astronomers watch images and data trickle in from NASA's New Horizon's flyby of the distant body nicknamed Ultima Thule, China is poised to to be the first country to land spacecraft on the far side of the moon.

The far side of the moon has been seen and mapped before, even by astronauts of the Apollo missions.

Last night (Jan. 2), China's robotic Chang'e 4 lander-rover duo pulled off the first-ever soft touchdown on the moon's largely unexplored far side.

A picture of the far side of the moon taken by Chang'e 4 this morning.

"The far side of the moon is a rare quiet place that is free from interference from radio signals from Earth", mission spokesman Yu Guobin said, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

The six-wheeled spacecraft will help scientists study the Moon's mysterious "dark side", how its surface interacts with solar wind, and perhaps the process behind the formation of lunar water.

Some analysts observing the Chinese moon mission have suggested this landing location on the moon could become a refueling station for future spacecraft tasked with deep-space exploration.

Chang'e-4 is carrying six experiments from China and four from overseas, including low-frequency radio astronomical studies - aiming to take advantage of the lack of interference on the moons' far side.

Chang'e-4 was launched 8 December from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province. China solved that problem a year ago when it launched a lunar satellite called Queqiao, which now acts as the communication link between the lander and Earth. "We have a responsibility to explore and to understand it. Exploration of the moon will also deepen our understanding of the earth and ourselves". It was initially constructed as a backup for Chang'e 3, which landed on the near side of the moon in 2013.

The moon is "tidally locked" to Earth in its rotation so the same side is always facing Earth.

The rover will also conduct mineral and radiation tests, the China National Space Administration has said.

As CNN noted, the Chinese space program's last lander, Yutu (Jade Rabbit), went out of operation in 2016 after making history as the first spacecraft from a nation other than the US or Russian Federation to make a lunar landing. And Chang'e 4 was originally designed as a backup for Chang'e 3, so the two missions share a lot of hardware.

China carried out its first crewed space mission in 2003.

David Rothery, Professor of Planetary Geosciences at The Open University, U.K., highlighted in a piece for The Conversation that only the US and Soviet Union have landed spacecraft on the Moon, in missions steered by humans or which "relied on luck for a safe landing".

  • Joey Payne