Freaky View from Lunar Orbit Shows Chinese Lander on the Moon’s Far Side

By George Dvorsky on at

An image captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter shows the Chang’e 4 landing site from a distance of over 200 miles, revealing both the probe and the desolate lunar landscape around it.

We know the Moon is dead and dark, but wow does this black-and-white photograph ever drive that message home. China’s Chang’e 4 lander appears as a two-pixel-wide speck in the NASA photo, providing an incredible sense of scale. Earth has its fair share of barren landscapes, but there’s something truly dreary and forbidding about the Moon. It’s just so... alien.

The Chang’e 4 landing site indicated by two white arrows. (Image: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

When the Chang’e 4 spacecraft made it to the Moon’s far side in early January, it landed on the floor of the Von Kármán crater, a feature named in honour of Theodore von Kármán—a pioneering scientist during the early days of the US space programme. This large impact crater formed about 3.9 billion years ago, and it measures around 186 kilometres (116 miles) in diameter.

On 30 January 2019, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter approached the landing site from the east, snapping the pic at a distance of 330 kilometres (205 miles) from the Chang’e 4 lander. The Chinese probe appears as a tiny white dot, and its mobile companion, the Yutu 2 rover, is so small it cannot be seen.

The large, fresh-looking crater beyond the landing site measures nearly 4 kilometres across, or 12,800 feet, and it’s about 600 metres (1,970 feet) deep, according to NASA. Looking across the expanse, you can see the western wall of the Von Kármán crater—a mountain range that extends more than 3 kilometres (9,850 feet) above the floor of the crater.

Image: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

A zoomed-in photo (above) of the landing site shows the scene in more detail, including a large crater (just to the right of the arrows) near Chang’e 4 measuring around 440 metres (1,440 feet) across.

As a fun aside, this isn’t the first time that NASA has used its orbiter to spot a Chinese lander on the Moon. In December 2013, the LRO spotted the Chang’e 3 lander and the Yutu rover from a distance of 150 kilometres (93 miles). Chang’e 3 landed on the Moon’s near side, but it stopped functioning shortly after landing. [NASA]