Changing Planet

Cool Photos: While China’s Jade Rabbit Sleeps, NASA Watches Overhead

NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter view of the Chang'e 3 lander (large arrow) and Jade-Rabbit rover (small arrow) just before sunset on their first day of lunar exploration. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
View from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter of the Chang’e 3 lander (large arrow) and Jade Rabbit rover (small arrow) just before sunset on their first day of lunar exploration. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has snapped an image of both the Chinese lander and the hibernating Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, rover sitting among the craters on the surface of the moon. (Related: “Cool Video: Watch HD Footage of China’s Historic Moon Rover Landing.”)

Although the six-wheeled robotic geologist is only a scant 5 feet (1.5 meters) wide, it clearly appears as a pixel-wide spot in the high-resolution imagery taken by the U.S. spacecraft circling some 93 miles (150 kilometers) above.

NASA's Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter has been circling the moon since 2009. Its mission is to create dtailed maps of the moon and its resources. Credit: NASA
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been circling the moon since 2009. Its mission is to create detailed maps of the moon and its resources. Credit: NASA

The LRO flew directly over the landing site on Christmas Day, according to NASA, and identification of the rover was easy thanks to both Chinese spacecraft having highly reflective metallic surfaces and solar panels, and casting very long, stark shadows on the craggy lunar regolith.

How can we be sure it’s not just some boulders? NASA was able to capture a “before” image of the landing site on June 30, 2013, with nearly identical lighting. By comparing the before and after images, scientists were able to determine the exact position of the lander on the lunar surface.

This animated GIF shows the Chinese Chang'e lander (large white dot in the center of the second image) and Yutu rover (smaller white dot below the lander). The individual images were taken by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera Narrow Angle Camera.  Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
This animated GIF shows the Chang’e-3 lander (large white dot in the center of the second image) and Yutu rover (smaller white dot below the lander). The individual images were taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter narrow-angle camera. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

The Chang’e-3 mission is China’s first ever lunar landing and marks the first successful soft landing on the moon in nearly three decades. The Soviet Union was the last to do it in 1976 with the Luna 4 probe.

Within hours of landing on December 14, the Jade Rabbit rolled down the ramp, began a visual stakeout of its new home, and performed a complete system check. The mission has already returned its first scientific data about the surrounding lunar rock chemistry via the rover’s onboard chemical sniffer, the Alpha X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) instrument. (See also: “China’s Moon Rover Starts to Make Tracks.”)

Solar-powered chinese Jade-Rabbit rover seen here making tracks away from lander just before it goes into hibernation for the two-week long lunar night. Credit: CSNA
The solar-powered Jade Rabbit rover is seen here making tracks away from the lander just before it goes into hibernation for the two-week-long lunar night. Credit: CSNA

Initially planned to land within the lava basin Mare Iridium (Sea of Rainbows), the probe actually touched down on top of volcanic deposits within the neighboring Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains) plain.

Since December 26 the rover has gone into hibernation for the duration of the two-week-long lunar night. When it wakes up next week, Yutu is expected to explore the mineralogy and geology of the surrounding dusty terrain.

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.
  • sudipta chowdhury

    it is very beautiful

  • john makenzi

    impresive and very educative

  • Dr J R Stockton

    “The Chang’e-3 mission is China’s first ever lunar landing and marks the first successful soft landing on the moon in nearly three decades. The Soviet Union was the last to do it in 1976 with the Luna 4 probe.”

    Nearly four decades, by European arithmetic.

  • amanda K

    Now China’s gone to the moon and maybe for no other reason than to pee on the same fire hydrant as the other big dogs. This planets out of control. @_@

  • David

    Congratulations,, to the great engineers of the

  • David

    Some great engineering needed for that landing.

  • Homar Shrestha

    Really wonderful and meaningful work of human beings. I appreciate…

  • Apollo17

    Its fantastic that we have gone back to the lunar surface, it would be nice to think that it will prompt other nations too.It must be frustrating for the scientist that no sooner than they arrive they have got to go into a two week hibernation. I would be interested to know the name of the crater jade rabbit is parked next to?

  • PattonFiend

    Here we go. China will now try to rape and pillage the moon for everything she’s got! Mark my words! China’s greed, lack of respect for the environment and their disgusting overpopulation will be the end of us all!!!

  • CrowdedCranium

    Where is the live video feed? Be one up on NASA, stream a live feed.

  • Lizza

    That´s wonderful opportunity we all will have now to see the right colors of the moon!!! And I´m totally sure the photos will not be blurred !!!
    NASA even showing China robot, still shows it in black and white!!!
    We all were stolen in our rights in knowing the truth for all this years. Needed to be a China work to show to us what is really going on on moon…. Wonderful!!!!

  • Jeremy Keller

    I believe it’s been suggested on YouTube that the images taken by Jade Rabbit are fake. Furthermore, the Chinese have probably announced that they are not prepared to provide the general public with any more images of the lunar surface as taken by Jade Rabbit. I would therefore like authenticity of those images to be confirmed one way or the other.

    I am featured on the BBC website and anxious to bring my weblinks to everyone’s attention. By visiting Google and typing in the name of Jeremy Keller you should find my BBC link and my comments about the Maverick flying car. You should also be able to find me on Facebook by searching for:

    Maverick flying car

    BMW i3

    martian rovers

    Kepler 22-b

    Lincoln Navigator


    autonomous robots

    plane driven

  • Stephen

    Does the rover have a rolling video camera camera on board to record and send back moving colour images. It would be very interesting also to see the earth phases from the moons perspective as it rotates on its axis. These videos could really be mind blowing and open the doors to lots of public interest and most importantly funding for future missions. The colour of the moons surface alone is a brand new revelation to us. And that’s just revealed on the first day, after all these years of believing that it was all grey.

  • ReadandShare

    True human progress.

    No, not the moon landing… that’s something already done almost 50 years ago.

    True human progress is when we humans can appreciate each other’s hard work and accomplishments — like cheering the athletes in the Olympics because of their achievements and not because of their particular countries… or cheering advances in Space and Science and every other field as advances for all humanity… without the pettiness of “us” versus “them”.

  • Apollo17

    I agree that its a great triumph for china they have achieved a fantastic technical feet, but I cant help but sense a somewhat anti-NASA feeling in some peoples posts.
    Lets not forget the amazing achievements
    of this government funded agency and as such they are tightly restricted in what they can and cant do due to funding.
    Im not going to go into the space shuttle, the ISS
    or the multitude of sats,landers to the moon and mars.These guys put 24 people in lunar orbit and safely landed 12 of them.We first orbited the moon in 68,landed 69 and finally stepped off the lunar surface in 72. I know a lot of people felt let down when things seemed to come to a halt and lunar bases and man on mars failed to appear, but this is not a fault of NASA but funding and a lack of public interest. One more thing to consider and then ill get off my soap box,if there had never been a NASA just think where WE would be right now, and what our understanding of the Universe would be.

  • Space Ghost

    Call me when someone else walks on the moon. USA did it first. Yawn.

  • none

    They are after rare “earth” elements. They lead the world in rare earth element mining. Ref: Lunar Prospector; The most important elements detectable by the GRS were uranium (U), thorium (Th), and potassium (K), radioactive elements which generate gamma rays spontaneously, and iron (Fe), titanium (Ti), oxygen (O), silicon (Si), aluminum (Al), magnesium (Mg), and calcium (Ca),

  • Penney Nile

    I am glad to see humanity on the moon once more, regardless of what ethnic culture is doing it. Discovering our universe is a task for all of us.

  • Lorna Amamo

    This is amazing am really waiting to see the true picture images of the moon.

  • denden

    and for the next years, China will claim the moon for themselves. They are just saying they can launch a missile from china to everyone else in the planet.

  • Neil Cottee

    Where are the stars in this photo? With no atmosphere on the moon, I would expect that black backdrop to be literally filled with points of light?

  • Steve Hill

    Interesting that the negative comments seem to be coming from USA while everybody else is cheering the Chinese on.

  • david

    N.ever A. S.traight A.nswer

  • Glen

    It’s about time someone got back up there and pu the proverbial “boots” down on the surface. Kudos to China for trying and succeeding.

    As an avid moon junkie, I would hope that people are more congratulatory in their commenting…doesn’t it seem more prudent to help one another (e.g. give China a hand if/when they need it) in an endeavor of this scale as opposed to offhandedly criticizing? We should all be doing this together as a means of furthering our knowledge instead of this steady game of one-upmanship…just saying…

  • Steve

    Imagine what advances could be achieved in space exploration with a combined international effort. Too bad we can’t play nice together – what a waste…

  • Apollo17


  • BarniPike

    This rover has gone… The problem of solar panels broke down Moon research programme of China.

  • ebby

    too funy to see a very big world achievment for chaines spatialy with 2 to 4 photos only plus there is no video!!!!
    did they realy made it????

  • rama39732

    hope that our technology get more and more advance every day, There is lot to explore in universe.

  • Exiquio

    It’s about time another country goes to the moon, China will tell us the truth about what’s really on the moon, theirs has to be a reason why the nada has not returned n it’s bcuz what they seen n keep secret from its citizens, I hope china don’t hold back on telling us what really is out there,

  • Jeremy Keller

    Have you seen my BBC link and read my comments on Facebook?

    Basically, having seen the Moonlight in the earthly night, I would to look the other way by seeing the Earthlight in the lunar night.

    I would also like to see lunar mountaineering. I think mountaineering on the Moon would be easier than on Earth due to there being less gravity.

    I would also like to see the wreck of Luna 2. I believe it was the first man-made object to reach the lunar surface, and did so in 1959.

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