The Chinese space agency has made its library of high-resolution images of the moon available to the public for the first time.
Hundreds of images released this week show the incredibly uneventful, yet spectacular, lunar surface in detail and are some of the best pictures of the moon available.
China National Space Administration (CNSA) lifted the veil of government secrecy to showcase the wealth of images and video clips captured by its Chang’e 3 lunar lander and Yutu rover.
Chang’e touched down on the lunar surface in December 2013, and was the first craft to soft land on moon in almost 40 years.
Along with its Yutu ‘Jade Rabbit’ rover it has amassed a wealth of information, despite the rover grinding to a halt within weeks on the surface.
The suite of images show the fine lunar dust, which makes operating on the surface so difficult. The powder-fine rock dust gets everywhere and can clog instruments and can even become charged with thousands of volts of static electricity.
A release of this volume of images and data is uncommon for the agency, unlike its European, US and even Japanese counterparts, which regularly release data.
While the CNSA website is difficult to navigate – not to mention entirely in Chinese – the US Planetary Society has reposted the images from both Yutu and Chang’e 3 in accessible formats.
Writing on her blog for the Planetary Society, Emily Lakdawalla said: ‘So far, the data center contains 797 unique observations from TCAM, and 578 for PCAM.
‘For both cameras, both the earliest and the last image data are not yet in the public archive.
‘In particular, the initial PCAM 6-frame mosaic of the lander is not in the database, and the final TCAM images of Earth are also not in the database.
‘So there are more goodies to look forward to.’
The Jade rabbit is still hanging in there, despite being unable to move and its solar panel for thermal insulation packing up – leaving it prone to the bitterly cold lunar nights.
CNSA is planning a follow-up mission, Chang’e 4, which aims to put a lander on the dark side of the moon.
If successful, the mission could eventually lead to the placement of a radio telescope on the moon for use by astronomers.
The plans were revealed in September by the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ moon exploration department, which shared the plans with state broadcaster CCTV.
A spokesperson for the CAS explained that the far side of the moon has a clean electromagnetic environment, making it an ideal location for sensitive instruments and low frequency radio for long distance communications.