Although China often releases information about the Moon collected by the Chang’e 4 mission, the country actually has two probes operating there. The previous ship, Chang’e 3, still has some functional instruments, capable of performing observation tasks on the side near the lunar surface (that is, the face of the Moon that is always visible to us, here on Earth).
Chang’e 3 was launched on December 1, 2013 and its landing module was planned to last for one year, while the Yutu rover had a useful life of just three months. Even so, the equipment continued to function longer. The rover, for example, stopped moving in January 2014, but continued to operate other instruments until mid-2016.
Now, according to an update from the National Space Administration of China (CNSA, the Chinese space agency), the Chang’e 3 mission continues to capture images, thanks to the landing module that remains operational, even after 2,400 days in the hostile environment of the Moon. One of the scientific charges of the spacecraft that continues to function is the lunar ultraviolet telescope, which has been monitoring variable stars and has managed to send Earth an image of the Pinwheel Galaxy.
With amateur radios, the Chinese team is able to capture the signals from the probe constantly, thus ensuring that the solar-powered module continues to function, including a very important unit for conserving the equipment: the radioisotope heating unit, which protects the module from the severe cold of the lunar nights.
In addition, the Yutu rover continues to contribute to science even four years after it went out of business. It is that new scientific results can still be obtained through the data collected by the probe, so that researchers from different institutes can write scientific articles using this information as a basis. Recently, they found evidence of three relatively young layers of basalt at the Chang’e 3 landing site, and published an article about that novelty in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
Meanwhile, Chang’e 4 remains operational and bringing great results on the far side of the Moon – the one we never see here on Earth. By the end of 2020, Chang’e 5 will be launched to bring lunar samples for the first time since the 1970s, when NASA’s Apollo program ended.
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