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Exploring the far side

3 Jul 2019, 08:30 UTC
Exploring the far side
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When the Soviet spacecraft Luna 3 sent back the first images of the far side of the Moon in October 1959, scientists were shocked to see a world very different from what they expected. The photos, although patchy and blurry, showed few of the large, flat, dark expanses that dominate the near side of the Moon – the side that is tidally locked to face Earth. Instead, the previously hidden far side proved to be densely peppered with mountains and impact craters. However, six decades after Luna 3’s pioneering journey, every Moon landing since then – 27 by the end of 2018 – has touched down on the near side. The far side had been studied via orbiting spacecraft but remained an unexplored and enigmatic territory for both manned and unmanned missions to the surface.
That was, however, until earlier this year, when a Chinese probe, Chang’e-4, touched down on 3 January 2019 in the Von Kármán crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin – one of the Moon’s most scientifically rich regions. About 2500 km in diameter, the basin is the largest and most ancient impact crater on the Moon and is thought to have formed from a collision that ...

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