Since its historical landing on January 3, the Chang’e 4 lunar lander has continued to rack up a string of firsts for spaceflight history, including taking new pictures of the Moon’s never-before photographed far side, surviving through the long, cold lunar night, and sprouting the first known plant to be germinated on another world.
On February 4, after its long slumber through the lunar night, Chang’e resumed sending images of Von Kármán Crater on the Moon’s far side back to Earth, an environment that had never been photographed from the surface before the probe’s landing there early last month–making it also the first spacecraft to make a soft landing on the Moon’s back-half. The images, including a 360-degree panorama stitched together from 80 individual photographs, were relayed back to Earth through the Queqiao communication satellite.
“From the panorama, we can see the probe is surrounded by lots of small craters, which was really thrilling,” according to Li Chunlai, deputy director of the National Astronomical Observatories of China and commander-in-chief of the ground application system of Chang’e 4. Chang’e 4 is named for the Chinese goddess of the Moon; its rover, Yutu 2, means “Jade Rabbit”; and the name of the relay satellite, Queqiao, means “Magpie Bridge”.
Before hunkering down for the lunar night–a two-week stretch, given the Moon’s 30-day-long day–a biological experiment on board the lander yielded the first plant to be germinated on the Moon. In particular, a cotton seed sprouted in the experiment’s enclosure, using natural sunlight, proving that Earth plants could take root on another world. Unfortunately, the new shoot didn’t survive the lunar night, when temperatures dropped to -190°C (-310°F). Chinese scientists still considered this a success, as being able to grow plants on the Moon is an important step in establishing a permanent colony there.