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FEATURE STORY: Here’s Why China’s Chang’e 4 Is A Big Leap For Mankind!
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Here’s Why China’s Chang’e 4
Is A Big Leap For Mankind!

By Anastasia Chapman

BT 201903 feature 01这就是为什么中国的嫦娥四号是





BT 201903 feature 03Since the first physical lunar probe conducted by the USSR in 1959, there have been multiple attempts to explore the surface of the Moon. But little did the world know that China would become the first to land on the far side of the moon, and have it done successfully in a historic moment for all of humankind.

The successful robotic probe named after the Chinese moon goddess, Chang’e 4 is the world’s first ever spacecraft launched in the unexplored South Pole-Aitken Basin, often touted as the biggest known impact structure in the solar system. Having crossed this massive hurdle, Chang'e 4 has been hailed as a landmark technical feat, and is seen as a major step in China's quest to becoming a strong space power by 2030.

What Makes Chang’e 4 So Revolutionary?

BT 201903 feature 02

As per CNSA, the Chinese space agency, Chang'e 4 is the first-of-its-kind space mission that any nation has attempted to put down. It is because of the geology of the far side of the moon, which is of particular scientific interest. Heavily pitted by deep craters, the other face of the moon features a rougher terrain containing more ancient material than the near side.

And after orbiting the earth for more than 4.5 million years, the Earth's gravitational tug has compelled the moon's rotation pace to synchronise with its orbit. As a result, the moon rotates both on its axis and circles Earth once every 28 days. That means the Earth always faces the same side of the moon, and the far side is the other half we can't see from the Earth’s surface.

So, Why Hasn't Anyone Landed On The Far Side Before?

BT 201903 feature 04Because landing on the far side means being out of direct radio contact with the Earth. Almost impossible to maintain communication with the Earth during a far-side landing, the moon itself blocks radio contact, cutting off any space probe from the rest of humankind. The radio communication blockage was a tough hurdle for the CNSA to overcome.

To get a full-proof solution around this problem, CNSA launched a relay satellite called Queqiao back in 2018 at a neutral orbit beyond the moon, where the gravity of Earth and the moon cancel out the inward-moving force of an object, effectively allowing it to park the spacecraft in place and also to communicate with both Chang’e and the Earth, which has a line of sight to ground stations in Argentina, Namibia and China.

BT 201903 feature 05

Then CNSA's next target was the Von Kármán crater that lunar scientists have long wanted data on. Being the oldest impact crater in the entire solar system, and also out of the sight of the Earth, landing on the South Pole-Aitken Basin, where the Von Kármán crater is located, is a great technological accomplishment for China.

And it’s not just the historic landing of the Chang’e 4 spacecraft, the space probe is additionally conducting a 'lunar biosphere' experiment containing silkworm eggs and plant seeds, along with low-frequency radio spectrometer that will allow scientists to study the high energy solar atmosphere from afar. For more ground-breaking revelations, China's iconic lunar probe has been working on these following things over the past few weeks.

1) Taking Cosmic Images

The Chang’e 4 probe comprises a rover and a lander that, right after touching down the lunar surface, took snaps of each other hovering over the Von Kármán Crater, near the moon’s South Pole. Panoramic images of the moon’s far side, featuring its rugged surface, were captured by the lander. As the moon blocks radio signals from the far side from reaching the Earth, these images were sent back through the relay satellite Queqiao.

2) Took A Nap During The Lunar Rotation

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In 2014, China’s first Jade Rabbit rover malfunctioned, while trying to shut down for the bitterly cold lunar night. This time Chang'e 4 overcame the impossible, when the lunar probe on 4th of January was put down for an “afternoon nap”, so it can survive the harsh lunar temperatures.

3) Witnessing the Big Bang

The moon’s far side is an ideal place to monitor all low-frequency radio waves generated by the first stars and galaxies formed about 14 billion years ago. The Chinese researchers have made sure to equip Chang'e 4 probe with three 16-foot-long antennas to pick up those radio waves that cannot be detected on the Earth. Even after the end of the probe, these solar-powered devices are designed to operate for years, which could help scientists study the afterglow of the Big Bang.

BT 201903 feature 074) Studying The Lunar Biosphere

Chang’e 4 probe has created a mini ecosystem with the following six species - cotton, rapeseed, potato, Arabidopsis, fruit fly and yeast, to check their sustainability within the lunar biosphere.

BT 201903 feature 085) Examining The Solar Winds

A device mounted on the rover has been designed to analyse how the solar wind, and the streams of charged particles from the sun, act on the moon’s surface.

BT 201903 feature 09China’s Lunar Explorations: The Way Ahead

With such undergoing and upcoming pioneering experiments by the CNSA, it seems that China has even bigger plans for its lunar quests. In its next attempt, Chang'e 5, the country's researchers are planning to land on the moon's surface and return samples to Earth. If successful, China would be the third country to send material back from the moon, and the second nation to do so with robots.

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