Chang’e 4 rover spotted on the moon’s surface by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

China’s Chang’e 4 mission has been exploring the far side of the moon, and has already sent back images and made discoveries about the cold lunar nights. Now the Chang’e 4 rover has come into view of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) which has captured images of the Chinese craft perched on the floor of the Von Kármán crater.

The LROC is a system of three narrow-angle cameras that takes high-resolution black and white images, and is a part of the suite of instruments on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). The LRO craft is currently in orbit around the moon, where it has been gathering mapping data to identify safe landing zones for other craft and to identify potentially useful resources. As part of this mission, the LROC is used to capture images of the surface of the moon with a remarkable resolution down to 1 meter (3.3 feet).

At the end of January, the LRO passed over the Chang’e 4 landing site, although at a considerable distance of more than 124 miles (200 kilometers) away, capturing the Chinese craft as just a few small pixels. The next day, the LRO passed slightly closer to the landing site and captured another image, this one showing both the Chang’e 4 rover and its miniature companion, the Yutu-2 probe.

Chang’e 4 lander (near tip of left arrow) and rover (near tip of right arrow) nestled among craters on the floor of Von Kármán crater. Image is 1700 meters (5580 feet) wide across the center, LROC NAC M1303570617. NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

As you can see from the image of the Von Kármán crater, the area has been struck by a large number of impacts over the years. The surface shows many pockmarks because it is an incredible 3 billion years old, with older craters appearing rough and highly degraded and more recent impacts appearing sharp and crisp. All of these impacts over the years have lead to the surface rock being ground down into a fine powder which looks like dust but is in fact a particular type of lunar soil known as regolith. Beneath the regolith is basaltic bedrock which is stronger than the regolith and harder to displace through impact events, meaning that moderate impacts can reveal layers of the moon’s stratigraphy.

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