Run, rabbit, run!
Published : Saturday, 5 January, 2019 at 6:31 PM Count : 504
A Chinese rover is making its tracks on the soft surface of the 'dark' side of the moon after touching down on our nearest celestial neighbour.
The Yutu-2 - or Jade Rabbit 2 - rover drove off its lander's ramp and onto the exterior of the moon's far side at 10:22pm Beijing time (2:22 pm GMT) on Thursday, about 12 hours after the Chinese spacecraft carrying it came to rest.
China's space agency later posted a photos online, revealing lunar rover several yards away from the spacecraft.
The tracks it makes on the surface of the moon will be forever immotalised and will never be lost as there is no wind on the moon due to its lack of an atmosphere.
By 5pm Beijing time (9am GMT) the three 15-foot long antennaes on Chang'e-4 had also been fully unfurled to enable the low-frequency radio spectrometre to begin work.
The rover which is currently meandering around the moon on six independently controlled wheels, has also established a robust connection with its relay satellite, Queqiao.
Yutu-2 has already completed environmental perception, route planning, walking to where it is pictured currently and starting its scientific operations.
Chinese state media also reports that the cameras on the machine have been turned on and are working normally.
Other equipment will be turned on one by one, according to the Chinese space agency CNSA.
Yutu-2 is expected to go into standby mode - 'nap mode' in Chinese - once these tests are complete. Experts hope it will reactivate on January 10 and resume normal functioning, according to China Central Television, although that is not guaranteed.
Jade Rabbit 2 weighs 308lbs (139kg) and has six individually powered wheels so it can continue to operate even if one wheel fails.
It can climb a 20-degree hill or an obstacle up to eight inches (20cm) tall and its maximum speed is said to be 220 yards (200 metres) per hour.
The pioneering rover is five feet (1.5 metres) long and about 3 feet (one metre) wide and tall, with two foldable solar panels and six wheels.
Yutu-2 and its accompanying lander will carry out mineral, biological and radiation tests ahead of a future base that China hopes to build on the moon.
Results of these experiments could lead to new understandings of the challenges faced by settlers who may one day colonise our natural satellite.
'It's a small step for the rover, but one giant leap for the Chinese nation,' Wu Weiren, the chief designer of the Lunar Exploration Project, told state broadcaster CCTV.
'This giant leap is a decisive move for our exploration of space and the conquering of the universe.'
The rover is equipped with a variety of scientific instruments to help it analyse the surface of the moon, including a panoramic and infrared camera, ground-penetrating radar a low-frequency radio spectrometer.
However, experts say that the craft will not be able to function indefinitely and may only be able to operate for as little as one day.
'Of course, it's never going to leave the Moon, so the question is really how long it can remain operational,' said Professor Ian Crawford from the department of Earth and planetary sciences at Birkbeck College London
'I suspect they will hope for at least one lunar day - 14 Earth days - after which, if it is still working, it will have to hibernate during the 14-day lunar night because it is solar powered, and hopefully wake up again afterwards.
'That is a tall order because the lunar night is so cold - about -180°C (-292°F).
'While operational, it will rove around studying the composition of rocks, and the sub-surface using its ground-penetrating radar.
'It will just be left on the Moon once it ceases to function, unless one day it is collected and brought back to a museum.'