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China’s Chang’e-4 Launches On Mission To the Moon’s Far Side

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: China is aiming to go where no one has gone before: the far side of the moon. A rocket carrying the Chang’e-4 lunar lander blasted off at about 2:23 a.m. local time on Saturday from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southern China. (In the United States, it was still midday Friday). Chinese authorities did not broadcast the launch, but an unofficial live stream recorded near the site showed the rocket rise from the launch pad until its flames looked like a bright star in the area’s dark skies. Nearly one hour later, Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency reported that Chang’e-4 had successfully launched. Exactly when it will set down at its destination has not yet been announced — possibly in early January — but Chang’e-4 will provide the first close-up look at a part of the moon that is eternally out of view from Earth. The rover will attempt to land in the 110-mile-wide Von Karman crater. The crater is within an area known as the South Pole-Aitken basin, a gigantic, 1,600-mile wide crater at the bottom of the moon, which has a mineralogy distinct from other locations. “That may reflect materials from the inside of the moon that were brought up by the impact that created the basin,” reports The New York Times. The suite of instruments on the rover and the lander — cameras, ground-penetrating radar and spectrometers — “will probe the structure of the rocks beneath the spacecraft, study the effects of the solar wind striking the lunar surface,” the report says. “Chang’e-4 will also test the ability of making radio astronomy observations from the far side of the moon, without the effects of noise and interference from Earth.” It will also see if plant seeds will germinate and silkworm eggs will hatch in the moon’s low gravity.

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