China's Chang'e 4 Probe Just Sent Its First Images of Far Side of the Moon

China achieved a milestone in space exploration Wednesday, as its Chang’e 4 probe successfully landed on the far side of the moon. The craft landed in the oldest and largest crater, as part of a mission to collect data about the moon and the effects of its gravity. The probe has already sent back its first three images to the China National Space Administration.

The probe, named after a goddess on the moon, has a number of tasks to undertake. It’s carrying a 6.6-pound aluminum container with Arabidopsis plant seeds, potatoes and silkworm eggs, which form a complete ecosystem that will show the effects of microgravity on organisms. The probe will also dispatch a rover to explore some of the uncharted areas of the moon and pave the way for a lunar telescope array. The aim is to explore the mysterious South Pole-Aitken crater, which measures over 1,500 miles wide and eight miles deep, thought to have been formed by some sort of cataclysmic event. Other plans include studying the dust and rocks on the surface, as well as using equipment like its spectrometer to study celestial objects that give out radio waves, safe from the noise emanating from Earth.

The probe was launched on December 7 from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre, entering orbit five days later. It successfully landed at 9:26 p.m. Eastern time, and it’s already sent back some images:

Chang'e 4 image
Change'4 image shared with the world.

As it doesn’t have a line of sight with the Earth, it’s using the Queqiao satellite launched back in May to send information to its operators. The pictures show the comparatively smooth surface of the far side of the moon, as opposed to the crater-covered side that faces toward the Earth. Unfortunately for Pink Floyd fans, it’s inaccurate to refer to this as the “dark side of the moon,” as the sun shines on different sides as the moon orbits the Earth.

The grainy images were bounced off a satellite.
The grainy images were bounced off a satellite.

The mission bodes well for China’s goal to send a human to the moon, first announced in 2016. At a Morgan Stanley space summit in December 2018, 10 of the 12 panellists claimed China would beat the United States to the moon, with experts suggesting it would take place somewhere between 2022 and 2030. Malcolm Davis, senior analyst in defence strategy and capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told The Guardian that the landing may “set a fire under the Americans” to stop China from beating the country back to the moon, adding: “I imagine we will see an announcement the Chinese do intend to send Taikonauts to the moon by 2030.”

The images show the smooth surfaces.
The images show the smooth surfaces.

With the administration also proposing plans for a lunar base as soon as 2030, Chinese officials are not slowing down in the race to learn more about the moon.

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