Nearly a month after the stunningly successful soft landing on the Moon by China's first lunar mission on Dec. 14, 2013, the Chinese Academy of Sciences has at last released far higher quality digital imagery snapped by the Chang'e-3 lander and Yutu moon rover.
Top Photo: The Earth from the Moon – by Chang'e-3 on Christmas Day. Lander camera snapped this image on Christmas Day 2013. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences
This release of improved images is long overdue. And perhaps the best news of all involves a belated Christmas present to humanity – the publication of never before seen and absolutely stunning images of the Earth from the Moon captured by the lander on Christmas Day 2013.- We haven't seen the Earth from the Moon's surface in 4 decades – not since the 1970's.
Photo taken by the extreme ultraviolet camera on Dec. 16, 2013 shows the observation of the Earth's plasmasphere by the Chang'e-3 lander. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences
Until now, most of the Chang'e-3 mission images we've seen have essentially been rather low resolution pictures of pictures – that is screenshots or photos taken of the imagery that has been flashed onto large projection screens at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center, and then distributed by Chinese government media outlets.
So they have been degraded several times over.
Portrait photo of Yutu moon rover taken by camera on the Chang'e-3 moon lander on Dec. 15, 2013 shortly after rolling all 6 wheels onto lunar surface. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences
I've collected a gallery of the new Chang'e-3 lunar photos here for all to enjoy – see above and below. The gallery includes photos taken during the final moments of the descent and landing on Dec. 14, 2013, as well as portraits and 360 degree moonscape panoramas taken by both spacecraft after Yutu rolled its wheels onto the loose lunar soil 7 hours later on Dec. 15, and the fabulous new images of Earth in visible and UV light.
Yutu moon rover imaged by camera on the Chang'e-3 moon lander on Dec. 16, 2013. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences
Yutu and the lander are about to awaken from their self induced slumber which began at Christmas time to coincide with the dawn of the the utterly frigid two week long lunar night. Temperatures plunged to below minus 180 degrees Celsius. They went to sleep to conserve energy since there is no sunlight to generate power with the solar arrays.
Yutu portrait taken by the Chang'e-3 lander on Dec. 22, 2013. China's 1st Moon rover 'Yutu' embarks on thrilling adventure marking humanity's first lunar surface visit in nearly four decades. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences
After driving off the lander, Yutu – which means 'Jade Rabbit' – drove in a semicircle around the lander and headed south. Jade Rabbit stopped at 5 designated places. The pair of Chinese spacecraft then snapped images of one another at each location. Some of those images were included in this new batch. So you can see the lander from 3 different perspectives collected here:
1st Photo of Chang'e-3 moon lander taken by the panoramic camera on the Yutu moon rover after it drove all 6 wheels onto the lunar surface on Dec. 15, 2013. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences
Side view Chang'e-3 moon lander in this image taken by the panoramic camera on the Yutu moon rover as it drove in a semicircle around the lander heading south. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences
Photo of Chang'e-3 moon lander emblazoned with Chinese national flag taken by the panoramic camera on the Yutu moon rover on Dec. 22, 2013 during 5th and final stop as it drove in a semicircle around the lander heading south. Yutu is looking north, lander looking south. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences
Here's a pair of very cool 360 degree panoramas – taken by each spacecraft and showing the other.
This digitally-combined polar panorama shows a 360 degree color view of the moonscape around the Chang'e-3 lander after the Yutu moon rover drove onto the lunar surface leaving visible tracks behind. Images were taken from Dec. 17 to Dec. 18, 2013. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences
This digitally-combined polar panorama shows a 360 degree black and white view of the moonscape around the Yutu moon rover after it drove off the Chang'e-3 lander at top and left visible tracks behind. Images were taken on Dec. 23, 2013. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences
1st panorama around Chang'e-3 landing site after China's Yutu rover drove onto the Moon's surface on Dec. 15, 2013. The images were taken by Chang'e-3 lander following Dec. 14 touchdown. Panoramic view was created from screen shots of a news video assembled into a mosaic. Credit: CNSA/CCTV/screenshot mosaics & processing by Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
Finally here's imagery taken during the landing sequence by the descent imager in the final minutes before touchdown at Mare Imbrium, nearby the Bay of Rainbows, or Sinus Iridum region. It is located in the upper left portion of the moon as seen from Earth. You can easily see the landing site with your own eyes. And be sure to check my earlier story with an eye popping astronauts eye view video combining all the descent imagery – here.
Photo taken by the descent imaging camera on Dec. 14, 2013 shows lunar landscape during Chang'e-3 lunar probe's landing at an altitude of 99 meters. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences
Photo taken by the descent imaging camera on Dec. 14, 2013 shows lunar landscape during Chang'e-3 lunar probe's landing at an altitude of 7.9 meters. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences
The landmark Chang'e-3 mission marks the first time that China has sent a spacecraft to touchdown on the surface of an extraterrestrial body.
China is only the 3rd country in the world to successfully soft land a spacecraft on Earth's nearest neighbor after the United States and the Soviet Union.
Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Chang'e-3, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, LADEE, Mars and more news.