Their second landing on the moon, China’s unmanned Chang’e 4 probe, consisting of a lander and rover, became the first man-made object to touch down on the far side of the moon. Although there haven’t been many pictures released yet (and Chang’e 4’s position on the far side of the moon makes transmitting challenging – the probe was accompanied by a satellite to route it’s data back to the ground when line of sight is achieved), we managed to source this wonderful selfie:
as well as a nice photo of the local surroundings, an open field of brownish rock and moon dust:
The fourth Chang’e probe, named after the Chinese moon goddess, is a massive success for the burgeoning Chinese National Space Administration, with the Chinese government hailing the launch of Chang’e 4 as one of China’s greatest achievements last year. The Chinese President, Xi Jinping, emphasized space exploration’s importance to China after becoming the country’s leader in 2013, and China has made leaps and bounds since then. The Chang’e 4 lander is also unique in that it was engineered to pick a safe landing spot for itself, a tricky feat considering the delicacy of the probe and the rugged terrain on the Moon.
For the rest of us on planet Earth, Chang’e 4’s successful landing is also a boon to the greater scientific community. The reason for this is simple; While we have massive radio telescopes on the ground, as well as satellites in orbit to observe the heavens, our atmosphere, coupled with our endless radio transmissions renders these devices completely incapable of observing certain parts of the radio band (Actually, the atmosphere blocks most of the entire electromagnetic spectrum, with the visible range being one exception). Chang’e 4, however, has the advantage of having (approximately) 1,700 kilometers of solid rock and metal shielding it from electromagnetic interference from back on Earth. For the first time in human history, this natural shielding will allow China’s Chang’e 4 probe to “listen” to electromagnetic bands that we have previously been unable to, without any man-made background noise, and Chang’e 4 does come equipped with a variety of scientific instruments that will allow it to take preliminary readings.
Of course, China’s probe’s instruments are more of a proof of concept than anything else; in order to really delve into the distant reaches of the universe, mankind would need to construct a far more substantial sensor array on the far side of the moon – more than a small probe could bring with it – in order to really get meaningful data from the far reaches of space, something that is still likely far away, though China has reportedly been bouncing around the idea of sending a manned crew to the Moon, something that hasn’t happened since Apollo 17 left the lunar surface in 1972, including the possibility of a permanently manned base on the surface, which could be the precursor for a permanent scientific installation with the ability to observe further back in time than we have ever had the opportunity to do before.