Shedding Light on the Dark Side of the Moon

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Image: Chinese Academy of Sciences / China National Space Administration / The Science and Application Center for Moon and Deepspace Exploration / Justin Cowart

Image: Chinese Academy of Sciences / China National Space Administration / The Science and Application Center for Moon and Deepspace Exploration / Justin Cowart

China’s next lunar visitor Chang’e 4 is due to touch down on the far side of the moon on December 31st. If it succeeds in that endeavor, it will be the world’s first lunar probe to make a soft landing on the side of the moon that always faces away from earth.The lander and rover are equipped with cameras, radar and spectrometers to help identify rocks and dirt in the area. The instruments will probe the structure of the rocks beneath the spacecraft, and assess the effects of the solar wind striking the lunar surface.
Since radio signals from earth are blocked from reaching the side of the moon that never faces us, the Chinese launched a satellite in May that is orbiting the moon, and will relay messages between Earth and Chang’e-4.

Earthlings last walked on the moon 46 years ago this month; NASA’s Apollo 17 landed on the moon on December 11, 1972. Gene Cernan, the last person to walk on the moon and Harrison Schmidt, the only scientist to make it to the moon in the Apollo program spent more time on the lunar surface than anyone ever. They participated in three seven-hour-long moon walks – covering 22 miles!

Turning to night sky highlights this week: Venus in the predawn sky looks fabulous. It was right below the moon on Dec. 3rd – you may have seen the pair together. The next opportunity comes on January 1st and 2nd. In the meantime, an easier planet-Moon alignment occurs this Friday – it’ll be Mars and the Moon as the sun sets.
You’re watching the moon as it slides through our sky on its monthly journey around the earth.

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