In Depth

Chang’e-4: Chinese spacecraft descends upon the ‘dark side of the Moon’

A lunar rover will scan the atmosphere in bid to find out more about the Universe’s early years

A Chinese spacecraft is just hours away from becoming the first ever to land on the far side of the Moon, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

The Chang’e-4 probe - which lifted off from Xichang in southwest China on 7 December - will deploy a lunar rover into a crater at the South Pole-Aitken basin at around 1am UK time on Thursday, The Sun reports.

Measuring 1,600 miles across and eight miles deep, the vast impact basin is the “the largest, oldest, and deepest” region on the Moon’s surface. 

After touching down, the mission’s lander and rover will scan the atmosphere for clues about space’s “dark age” - a term used to describe the first few hundred million years of the Universe.

Chang’e-4 will also scour the surface for rock samples and study the terrain.

The Daily Mail suggests the mission may be linked to China’s plan to construct a Moon base in the 2030s, although a facility on the far side of the lunar surface is unlikely. The region is frequently bombarded by asteroids and receives less light than the side facing Earth. 

Nasa’s lunar landings in the late 1960s and early 1970s, along with other research missions, have all been to the side of the Moon visible from our planet.

What is the far side of the Moon?

The far side, commonly known as the dark side of the Moon, is a region of the lunar surface that is covered in deep craters and a “thicker, older crust” than the near side, says the BBC.

Through a phenomenon called “tidal locking”, this far side is never visible from Earth, because the Moon takes as long to complete one orbit of Earth as it does to rotate on its axis.

A common myth suggests the far side never receives sunlight, hence the “dark side” name. However, both sides receive the same levels of light from the Sun, but the near side also gets light reflecting from Earth’s surface.

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