Autobots, roll out! China lands on the dark side of the moon

Autobots, roll out! China lands on the dark side of the moon

While photos of the normally hidden far side of the moon have been previously taken from space, this would be the first image ever captured from the surface.

China's CCTV confirmed the news in a brief bulletin during its noon newscast, after a morning of rumors, saying that Chang'e-4, named after a Chinese moon goddess, touched down at 10:26 a.m. Beijing time. A few hours after the landing, the craft sent back its first close shot of the far side of the lunar surface via the relay communication satellite Queqiao, according to the state-run China Global Television Network.

The lander has now descended into the 13 kilometre (8.1 mile)-deep South Pole-Aitken Basin in what was described as a soft landing, and will release a 140kg rover to investigate the surface when ready.

Ye Quanzhi, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology, told BBC News that the mission marked the first time China had "attempted something that other space powers have not attempted before".

He added that China plans to explore Mars, Jupiter and asteroids in the future.

Because the far side faces away from Earth, it is also shielded from radio transmissions - making it the ideal place from which to study the universe.

The far side is also sometimes called the "dark side" of the Moon.

There have been many missions to the moon, but the vast majority of them are either in orbit, a flyby, or an impact.

Learning more about the moon isn't all the far side exploration is good for.

The Chang'e-4 lunar lander sits on the far side of the moon.

China's lunar lander is loaded with a variety of cameras and sensors, including ground-penetrating radar to peer beneath the lunar surface, reported NPR's Joe Palca while the probe was en route.

The far side is markedly different to the hemisphere facing Earth.

Following the December 7, 2018 launch of the Chang'e 4 mission using a Long March-3B/G3Z booster/launch vehicle the Chinese spacecraft reached lunar orbit last weekend.

Chang'e-4 will also measure the solar wind, make low-frequency radio astronomy observations and monitor cosmic rays from a side of the moon that doesn't experience earthly interference. The United States is still the only country to have humans step foot on the moon. China solved that problem previous year when it launched a lunar satellite called Queqiao, which now acts as the communication link between the lander and Earth.

Yu Guobin is a Chang'e 4 mission spokesman.

The next phase of China's lunar exploration will kick off in late 2019 with the launch of Chang'e 5.

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