China’s lunar probe Chang’e-4 made history on January 3, 2019 by becoming the first in the world to successfully execute a soft landing on the far side of the moon. Since then, Chang’e’s rover Jade Rabbit-2 (玉兔-2) has been scouting the area, using radar and radio technology to analyze its terrain and mineral composition.
The rover’s findings have been both mysterious and exciting.
During a routine exploration in August, the rover discovered a strangely colored, gel-like substance in a crater near the south pole of the moon. The rover examined it with visible and infrared spectrometers, but the discovery team could not initially confirm the substance’s origin.
Last week, scientists at the China National Space Administration published revolutionary findings about the internal architecture of the moon’s crust. They confirmed that the substance found was a byproduct of the collision that formed the Von Kármán crater, where the rover first landed.
The rover also managed to measure the thick layer of lunar dust that covers the far side of the moon, which we now understand is nearly 40 feet deep.
That lunar dust caused problems for the Apollo missions and others in the past, but the Chang’e team is confident that “extensive use of [Chang’e-4] could shed new light on the comprehension of the geological evolution of the moon’s far side.” A better understanding of the far side could make future lunar missions safer and more efficient, and ultimately help us get closer to building permanent habitats in space.
The team has not released details on future plans for the rover, but its findings will help us understand the nature of the moon’s origins.
In other China space news, our solar system’s largest unnamed dwarf planet — previously cataloged as 2007 OR10 — was recently named after the Chinese water god Gonggong (龚工), with its satellite moon aptly named Xianglu (相柳) after the ancient Chinese deity’s minister.
The #largest unnamed #planet in the solar system has been recently named after #Chinese water god Gonggong by International Astronomical Union.
It is the 1st and only dwarf planet in the solar system that has a Chinese name, said Chinese Academy of Sciences. pic.twitter.com/DLiAsLiArS
— People's Daily, China (@PDChina) March 3, 2020
The dwarf planet was not discovered by Chinese scientists, but the name Gonggong topped the charts in an online poll offered by the discovery scientists. Last Wednesday, the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center officially approved the name, making the dwarf planet the first major solar system body with a Chinese name. The planet is gaseous and has a red hue, but scientists are still unsure what sort of atmosphere it’s able to support.
Gonggong is the first major celestial body to receive a Chinese name, but given China’s current space exploration path, another may be on the horizon…
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