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Home / Science / This weekend, China is embarking on a historic mission to land on the other side of the moon

This weekend, China is embarking on a historic mission to land on the other side of the moon



Early Saturday morning, a rocket is fired in China, leading a land driver and a rover to the moon. It will be the beginning of the ambitious Chinese moon mission called Chang & # 39; e-4, which will try to land a spaceship on the other side of the moon – the region that always points away from Earth. No other nation has ever attempted such a feat – meaning that the mission could catapult China into space history.

So far, China belongs to an elite group of three countries that have landed a spacecraft gently on the lunar surface. Apart from America's notable Apollo missions, the former Soviet Union also landed robotic spacecraft on the lunar surface. The last mission took place in 1

976. In 2013, China entered the fight and put a lunar lander and a rover on the moon. Known as the Chang & # 39; e-3, this mission was part of a decade long campaign that China had developed for exploring the Moon with a robotic spacecraft. Before Chang'e-3, the country had brought a spaceship into lunar orbit and also pushed a vehicle into the moon's dirt. The next step is to visit a part of the moon that has never been fully explored.

It's a significant step because it lands on the other side of the moon Moon is an incredibly challenging task. The moon is literally connected to the earth, which means that it rotates about the same axis as a complete orbit around our planet. The result: we only ever see one half of the moon. This near side of the Moon is the only region where we landed softly, because there is a direct line of sight to Earth that allows easier communication with the ground control. To land on the page far of the Moon, you must have several spacecraft in tandem. In addition to the lander itself, you'll need a kind of probe near the moon that can relay your lander's communications to Earth.

That's what China has. In May, China's National Space Agency (China) launched a satellite called Queqiao, which is specifically designed to aid communications for the upcoming Chang'e-4 mission. After about a month in space, Queqiao settled in a spot on the other side of the moon, more than 60,000 kilometers from the lunar surface. The satellite orbits a point in space, the second Earth-Moon-Lagrange point. It is a place that resembles a parking space for spacecraft. At a Lagrange point, the gravitational forces of two bodies (stars, planets, etc.) balance each other so that a spacecraft is in relation to the two entities. At this particular Lagrangian point, Queqiao will look to the other side of the moon and allow communication between the spaceship and the Earth using a large curved antenna.

"They demonstrate that you can communicate with a relay on the lunar side of the moon Satellite will be a technological feat and a lot of prestige," says Andrew Jones, a freelance journalist studying China's space program ] The Verge .


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If all China will get a closer look at one of the most enticing areas of the lunar surface: the South Pole Aitken Basin. Jones believes the Chang'e-4 lander and rover will land at Von Kármán Crater in the area, although the exact landing site has not been confirmed. The South Pole Aitken Basin is a large impact crater on the other side of the Moon with a diameter of about 1,550 miles and a depth of 7.5 miles. It is believed to be one of the oldest impact points on the lunar surface, but we do not know exactly how old it is and its true age could tell scientists much about the early solar system.

"The South Pole Aitken Basin is extremely important."

It is believed that most of the craters on the Moon formed around 3.9 billion years ago, based on the analysis of the lunar rocks that occurred during the NASA Apollo missions were collected. Many scientists believe that these holes were created during a period of the solar system known as late heavy bombardment – a time when a large number of asteroids have fallen into the inner planets. It is believed that this time, after most of the planets in our cosmic neighborhood had formed, it was considered "late" in the evolution of our solar system. If the South Pole Aitken Basin is also 3.9 billion years old, it supports the idea that this bombardment has taken place. If it's much older, it pushes that theory. "This not only helps us to understand the moon, but the entire solar system," says Clive Neal, professor of engineering at the University of Notre Dame and emeritus chairman of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG), The Verge (19459012) . "That's why it's important, it's bigger than the moon. "

The South Pole Aitken Basin is a primary investigative goal because of its potential to tell us about our history. Scientists have suggested sending spacecraft to this region to collect samples and bring them to Earth for in-depth analysis. "The South Pole Aitken Basin is extremely important, and we still have not done it because it's too difficult," says Neal.


The South Pole Aitken Basin on the Moon
Image: NASA / GSFC / University of Arizona

Unfortunately, Chang & # 39; e-4 will not bring anything back to Earth, so we probably will not be able to to determine the exact age of the pelvis. But it should learn a few interesting tidbits. The Chang'e-4 Rover will transport a ground-penetrating radar to find out what the lunar structure looks like under the surface of the basin. This could tell us more about the origin of this area. It will also have an instrument to help you find out what the surface in this region is. And he wears a Swedish instrument designed to find out how the sun-emanating particles interact with the lunar rocks.

In the meantime, the lander, who is to carry the rover to the lunar surface, will also spot his landing and use his position on the moon. Because these vehicles are on the other side of the moon, they are shielded from the earth from most electromagnetic interference and do not have to deal with the atmosphere of our planet. The lander will investigate the space environment and the universe in low frequencies – something we can not do from our planet.

Of course, both the lander and the rover will carry cameras to detailed To make pictures of the lunar surface, as the predecessor of Chang & # 39; e-4, Chang & # 39; e-3, did. Much of the design of Chang'e-4 is modeled on Chang'e-3, which landed on the near side of the moon and told scientists a lot about an area called the Imbrium Basin. Hopefully, Chang & # 39; e-4's rover will move further than Chang'e-3's rover, called Yutu, who could not travel after about a month.

Although Chang & # 39; e-4 is definitely unique, it is simply unique A step on the ladder of decades-long Chang'e mission plan in China (Chang & # 39; s is a moon goddess in Chinese mythology) , Following this mission, China plans to launch another robotic mission to the moon called Chang # e-5 next year, which will serve to return samples from the front of the moon. If this succeeds, it is the first time that lunar material has been returned to Earth since 1976. In addition, Neal believes that a sample returns from the other side of the moon. "Chang's e-4 is a first step, and I'm sure it raises more questions than answers," says Neal. "But the ability to show is there to land and race on the other side, which tells us what the next step is, and how I say the return of robots would be the logical next step." e-4 rover Image: Chinese Academy of Sciences

In the distant future, it is possible that China hopes to bring people to the moon, even though these plans were not yet open. Jones says it looks like China wants to work on crew flights by developing a new giant carrier vehicle and concepts for a rocket that can carry people. "There is no officially government-approved plan to put Chinese astronauts on the moon, but you can see they are working on the various components you need," he says. China is focusing on Chang's e-4 , But as with many missions in China, the details of this flight are hard to find. We know that the mission will launch one of the long Long 3B missiles in China from the country's Xichang Satellite Launch Center. Thanks to the air-close advice, the start time will be at around 13:30 ET ET on Friday, December 7th. China can only announce that the mission was successful after the spacecraft was on its way to the moon, although Jones says we could hear earlier than others.

"The first sign we might start is that a poor soul near the Xichang launch center is awakened because they believe in an earthquake and complain about it on social media," says Jones ,

When Chang'e-4 reaches space, he will be on the moon for less than a month, probably landing sometime in the first week of January. When this happens, China has officially joined its own elite group, as it is the only country that visits the side of the moon that we can not see from Earth.


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