Dark side of the moon

Updated January 05, 2019


FOR decades, the ‘dark side’ of the moon has been a phrase in pop culture, and a reference to the vast unexplored spaces of the celestial body.

But now, on Thursday, a Chinese lunar rover landed on the ‘dark’ or ‘far’ side — a global first that boosts Beijing’s ambition to become a space superpower. The Chang’e-4 sent a photograph of the ‘dark side’ to the Queqio satellite, also operated by China.

A series of experiments has also been planned for the rover, including carrying out low-frequency radio astronomical tests, aiming to take advantage of the lack of interference on the moon’s far side.

China’s success in this regard is no mean feat: the dark side of the moon — unlike the near side — is extremely rugged, and this had earlier made landing difficult. This is not China’s first moon landing — it is the country’s second such probe, following the Yutu rover mission in 2013.

Going forward, China plans to send a lunar lander, the Chang’e 5, later this year. In fact, amongst its plans is to build a super-powerful rocket that is heavier than those developed by Nasa and private firm SpaceX, as well as a permanently crewed space station.

These developments are considered fascinating by many around the world, showing as they do the potential of science and technology.

The exploration of space and the planets in our solar system had for decades been referred to as the final frontier. And China’s rover has brought us one step closer to retrieving information that could not previously be obtained.

With the Mars landing that Nasa achieved recently, and private firm SpaceX planning a tourism journey around the moon and a human mission to Mars, there is ample reason for faith in science.

This week also saw Nasa release images of Ultima Thule, the farthest object to be explored by a spacecraft, and potentially holding valuable clues to the origins of the universe.

The ‘final frontier’, it appears, is constantly on the move.

Published in Dawn, January 5th, 2019