Chinese rover finds lunar nights 'colder than expected'

Cristina Cross
February 2, 2019

As a result of the tidal locking effect, the moon's revolution cycle is the same as its rotation cycle, and the same side of the moon always faces Earth.

"The far side of the moon has unique features, and has never been explored on site, so Chang'e-4 might bring us breakthrough findings", said Zou Yongliao, director of the lunar and deep space exploration division of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The difference between Chang'e 4's reading and the Apollo missions' is "probably due to the difference in lunar soil composition between the two sides of the moon". However, "this is the first time humans have done biological growth experiments on the lunar surface", said Professor Xie Gengxin, who led the design of the experiment.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, the Chang'e 4 lunar probe launches from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province.

Temperatures on the moon´s surface plummeted to minus 190 degrees celsius (-310 degrees Fahrenheit) during the probe´s first lunar night, which "was colder than scientists expected", the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said.

Photo provided by the China National Space Administration on January 3, 2019 shows the first image of the moon's far side taken by China's Chang'e-4 probe.

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But day also carries the risk of correspondingly high temperatures. Previously, Chinese scientists had no data on exactly how cold it could be.

"If you are in a part of the Moon where it is getting dark, you will notice that a lunar night has a duration of 14 terrestrial days, meaning that that part of the Moon would be kept in darkness for two weeks", explained the staff of the Caribbean Astronomy Society in a written statement.

NASA said it discussed in the past month with China to explore the possibility of observing a signature of the landing plume of Chang'e-4, as in a manner similar to what was done for Chang'e-3.

The temperature was lower than conditions reported by US missions to the near side of the moon, according to Chang'e-4 mission director Zhang He, speaking with China's state-owned news agency Xinhua. One of the things scientists were eager to observe is just how chilly the lander and its rover would get when enduring the lunar night, and now we finally know. The machines will continue to make observations of the lunar surface as well as cosmic radiation and space weather.

Named after the goddess of the moon in Chinese legends, Chang'e 4 is the fourth lunar probe launched by China since the country's lunar programme was launched in 2004.

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