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China launches spacecraft to the far side of the Moon

The Chang’e-4 probe is set to arrive at its destination early next year.

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An artist's impression of the rover on the moon.

Chang’e-4’s rover will map the area surrounding the landing site.Credit: Xinhua via Zuma

China’s Chang’e-4 spacecraft, which is bound for the Moon’s far side, successfully lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province on 8 December.

The craft, carrying a lander and a rover, aims to be the first to ‘soft’ land on the Moon’s crater-filled far side. The rover will survey its surroundings, and the lander will carry out several science experiments, including testing whether plants can grow on the Moon and collecting radio astronomy data.

“Everything appears to have worked flawlessly,” says Robert Wimmer-Schweingruber, a physicist at the University of Kiel inGermany, who has a radiation-detection experiment on the lander.

Although the landing date has not yet been officially announced, Chang’e-4 is expected to attempt to touch down on the Moon’s surface sometime early next month. The site will probably be inside a 186-kilometre-wide crater called Von Kármán, which is part of the South Pole–Aitken basin. The basin is the largest known impact structure in the Solar System and the oldest on the Moon.

A spacecraft landing on the Moon’s far side will be a great accomplishment, says Xiaoyu Hong, a radio astronomer at the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory in China. “I feel proud,” he says.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-07699-x
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