"Window On the Cosmos" --China's World-Changing Chang’e-4 Mission to the Far Side of the Moon (VIEW VIDEO)
The far side of Earth's moon, site of the Solar System's largest impact crater, has long been shrouded in darkness and mystery. That is soon to change with launch of China's Chang'e-4 probe -- named for the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology -- in 2018, the official Xinhua news agency has reported. "The Chang'e-4's lander and rover will make a soft landing on the far side of the moon, and will carry out in-place and patrolling surveys," according to the country's lunar exploration chief Liu Jizhong. And much more.
The far side of the Moon could yield critical breakthrough science from the study of the enormous South Pole-Aitken basin (an impact crater over 2,500 km across) that exposes the deepest parts of the lunar crust. This feature is the oldest crater on the Moon, having formed early in the history of the Solar System. Determining its age and compositional effects is a key question, not only for lunar science but also for the history and processes of planetary evolution in general. Obtaining the first direct measurements of the surface, as well as getting our first look at the low-frequency radio sky—key to understanding the early history of the universe.
The moon's far hemisphere is never directly visible from Earth and while it has been photographed, with the first images appearing in 1959, it has never been explored. Earlier reports from the Xinhua news agency hinted that China may be considering the construction of a pioneering radio telescope on the moons virgin far side, which will give it an unobstructed window on the Cosmos that was confirmed this June, 2016 when an agreement was announced between the Netherlands and China, that a Dutch-built radio antenna will travel to the Moon aboard the Chang’e 4 satellite and usher in a new era of radio astronomy allowing for the study of objects that might otherwise be invisible or hidden in other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.
“Radio astronomers study the universe using radio waves, light coming from stars and planets, for example, which is not visible with the naked eye," commented Heino Falke – a professor of Astroparticle Physics and Radio Astronomy at Radboud University. "We can receive almost all celestial radio wave frequencies here on Earth. We cannot detect radio waves below 30 MHz, however, as these are blocked by our atmosphere. It is these frequencies in particular that contain information about the early universe, which is why we want to measure them.”
Clive Neal, chair of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group affiliated with NASA, confirmed that the Chang'e-4 mission was unprecedented. "There has been no surface exploration of the far side," he told AFP. It is "very different to the near side because of the biggest hole in the solar system -- the South Pole-Aitken basin, shown above, which may have exposed mantle materials -- and the thicker lunar crust". The basin is the largest known impact crater in the solar system, nearly 2,500 kilometers wide and 13 kilometers deep.
Meanwhile, a 'research station' on the 'peaks of eternal light' at the Lunar South Pole would prevent anyone else from approaching. A Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics senior astrophysicist, Martin Elvis, has sounded the alarm of how an unfriendly power – the Chinese for example – could seize control of an important piece of lunar real estate. They could do it legally by exploiting provisions of the Outer Space Treaty, that bars any nation — and by extension, corporation — from owning property on a celestial body, but a loophole in the pact may amount to the same thing, warns Elvis.
The far side mission of Chang’e-4 also provides amazing new operational capabilities. Because it is not possible to communicate directly with spacecraft on the far side of the Moon from the Earth, control and operation of the Chang’e-4 lander and rover will use a relay satellite positioned in a “halo orbit” around the distant L-2 point over the far side. This mode of operations will extend Chinese experience in operations and control in deep space beyond LEO, allowing them to move and operate spacecraft at any point in cislunar space. Such capability has serious national security implications.
The concept of concealing true intentions in space by using science as a “cover story,” reports AirSpace magazine, has a long and venerable history. China’s upcoming missions to the Moon, they suggest, in addition to seeking unique and interesting scientific information, are immensely significant operationally. These missions are part of China’s long-term, deliberate strategy designed to obtain control of cislunar space.
Image credit: top of page wallpapersafari.com