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China Makes Historic Landing on 'Dark Side' of the Moon

January 3, 2019 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

The Chinese spacecraft is the first to ever land on this unexplored area of the moon.

Just before 10:30 am Beijing local time on January 3, the robotic spacecraft Chang’e 4 made a soft landing in the South Pole-Aitken Basin area of the moon, otherwise known as the “far side” or “dark side” of Earth’s only natural satellite.

It is the first spacecraft in history to attempt or achieve a landing on this unexplored area, which is never visible from Earth.

After keeping the details of the mission under wraps until the last minute, China announced the successful landing, and shared the first lunar images captured by the unmanned space probe via state media. As no direct communication link exists, the images had to be bounced off another satellite before being relayed back to Earth, BBC News reported.

An image taken by China’s Chang’e-4 probe after its landing on the far side of the moon on January 3, 2019, becoming the first spacecraft soft-landing on the moon’s uncharted side never visible from Earth.

The moon has been the object of human fascination—and scientific observation—for centuries. Although from our perspective it does not appear to spin, in reality the moon rotates about every 27 days, which is about the same amount of time it takes to orbit the Earth once. During this whole process, we can see only about 59 percent of the moon’s surface, while the other 41 percent—known as the “dark side” of the moon—is concealed from our view.

Soon after the Soviet satellite Sputnik became the first spacecraft to orbit Earth in 1957, both the Soviet and U.S. space programs began focusing on the next great objective: the moon. The Soviet Union initially had more success, as its first two Luna probes made the first escape from Earth’s gravity and the first lunar impact in 1959. That same year, Luna 3 achieved another first, taking a photographic survey of the moon’s far side. Despite their grainy quality, these early images revealed that the previously unseen hemisphere had few of the smooth, dark spots that we observe on the moon’s surface. Scientists initially mistook these volcanic plains for lunar seas, and called them maria (from the Latin word for sea).

Photograph of the far side of the moon taken by the Luna 3 space probe on October 28, 1959.

Since then, the National Aeronautics and …read more


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