China’s telescope on the Moon is still working, and could do for 30 years

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China’s Chang’e-3 lander and its LUT (Lunar-based Ultraviolet Telescope) are still in use, almost four years after landing on the Moon.

The LUT (Lunar-based Ultraviolet Telescope) has been watching variable stars and stars like our Sun, and also acting out low-galactic-latitude sky studies during the daytime periods over Mare Imbrium, the region in which Chang’e-3 landed.

Wang Jing at the National Astronomical Observatories (NAOs) under the CAS (Chinese Academy of Sciences) told gbtimes that the Chang’e-3 lander was still waking automatically when hibernated during a 14 day (Earth days) of nighttime on the Moon.

The Chang'e-3 lander on Mare Imbrium, image by the Yutu rover. (Image Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences)

Lander is still in communication with ground stations in China through these periods of sunlight and communicating data from LUT, which is the only apparatus on the lander that is still working.

The deficiency of atmosphere marks the Moon a key place for UV astronomy (which is not possible at low altitudes on Earth) and the LUT has produced some exciting results.

Above: An image of the Pinwheel galaxy taken earlier by the Lunar-based Ultraviolet Telescope on the Chang'e-3 lander (NAO).

“The most important scientific outcome from the LUT telescope is the water content in the moon exosphere,” Jing says.

The moons exosphere refers to the nearly negligible amount of molecules directly above the Moon’s surface. If existing in the Moon’s silicate rocks, H2O and OH molecules could be released due to micro-meteor effects and the effects of the solar wind.

The existence of large quantities of water on the Moon would be a big improvement for plans to begin a lunar habitat, as bringing water from Earth for astronauts would be very costly. It would also work as a potential foundation of oxygen and propellant.

Still in situ measurements finished by LUT has shown that concentration of OH/H2O molecules to be almost two orders of magnitude lower than the values described by earlier missions, with the results reported in a paper by Jing Wang and others.

Whereas the Apollo 16 mission astronauts had a manual UV telescope, LUT is the first automatic and remote operated telescope placed on an otherworldly body.

It has also been taking leads of the distinctive conditions throughout lunar eclipses.

China has its own Planetary Data System (PDS), maintained by the NAOC (National Astronomical Observatories of China), which permits people across the sphere to access and download data and spectacular images from its Lunar Exploration Missions (LEM).

Wang was speaking at an occasion at the GLEX 2017 (Global Space Exploration Conference) which opened officially on Tuesday.

Steve Durst, director of the ILOA (International Lunar Observatory Association) which has Chinese associates, stated in a presentation at the same event that the ‘power source’ for the Chang’e-3 lander could last for more than 30 years.

Chang’e-3, which was predicted to operate for a year, is powered by a RTG (Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator) and many solar panels. Steve hopes that the mission will take the essential support on Earth to stay well into the future. 

Chang'e-3 Lander was launched in December 2013, and has sent valuable scientific data from the Moon, adding to our knowledge of our celestial neighbor. Chang’e-3 was due to awaken for its 44th day (moon day) on June 4.

The mission, which also included the Yutu rover, also made China only the third nation to soft-land on the Moon, behind the United States and Soviet Union, and the first since the 1970s.

China's following mission to the Moon will be the Chang'e-5 lunar sample yield spacecraft, which is set to launch in November this year.

Above: The Yutu rover, taken by the Chang'e-3 lander.

Updated version of the previous article.
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China’s Chang’e-3 Lander


Lunar-based Ultraviolet Telescope




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