Photos released from the first ever mission to land on the dark side of the moon

Photos released from the first ever mission to land on the dark side of the moon

China has successfully landed a robotic spacecraft on the 'dark side' - or 'far side' - of the moon, the first-ever attempt and landing of its kind.

State media claimed that at 22.22 (Beijing time) on Thursday, January 3, the un-crewed Chang'e-4 probe touched down in the South Pole-Aitken Basin, an impact crater on the far side of the Moon.

The move is a huge accomplishment for the China National Space Administration (CNSA) and a major milestone in space exploration, given it is the first time any mobile probe is active on the far side, which is so far unexplored.

Far side of the moon Credit: CNSA

The Chang'e-4 was launched from Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in China on 7 December; it arrived in lunar orbit on 12 December and lowered itself towards the Moon.

Soon after it landed, the Chang'e-4 probe sent back its first pictures from the surface, which were shared by state media.

The historic photos were captured by the camera on the lander and the images were sent back to the Earth via the relay satellite 'Queqiao'.

After they were released, lunar exploration chief Wu Weiren reminded listeners of Neil Armstrong's famous quote, announcing to state media the event marked a "huge stride" for China.

The far side of the moon Credit: CNSA

He told the state broadcaster CCTV: "The separation of Chang'e 4's rover was smooth and perfect. The rover rolled only a small step on to the Moon, but it represented a huge stride for the Chinese nation."

Ye Quanzhi, an astronomer at Caltech, added that it was the first time China had "attempted something that other space powers have not attempted before".

So, why is the landing so significant?

The Chang'e-4 probe is aiming to explore a place called the Von Kármán crater, which is believed to have been formed by a giant impact early in the history of the Moon.

The incident in which the crater was carved out is thought to have been so powerful that it punched through the Moon's crust and down into the zone called the mantle.

The team in charge of the project are looking to train the instruments on any potential mantle rocks that were exposed, as well as study parts of the sheet of melted rock that that would have filled the newly formed South Pole-Aitken Basin and figure out its composition.

Andrew Coates, professor of physics at UCL's Mullard Space Science Laboratory in Surrey, told the BBC: "This huge structure is over 2,500km (1,550 miles) in diameter and 13km deep, one of the largest impact craters in the Solar System and the largest, deepest and oldest basin on the Moon."

In addition, scientists wish to study the far-side regolith - broken down rocks and dust that make up the surface - which will help them to grasp a further understanding of the formation of the Moon.