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Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla

Chang'e 3 update with lots of pictures: Yutu begins lunar journey

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla

23-12-2013 14:54 CST

Topics: pretty pictures, pics of spacecraft in space, mission status, the Moon, Chang'E program

There was a lot of action on Chang'e 3 over the weekend! The first thing I want to share with you is this cool little video of the rover rolling, evidently shot on the Moon. I took it from this news report on Youtube. It was a television camera recording of a video monitor, so the color is all washed out, but you are looking at video of a rover making tracks on the dusty surface of another world. Tremendous.

Yutu rolling on the Moon

CNSA / / Emily Lakdawalla

Yutu rolling on the Moon
China's Yutu rover makes tracks on the surface of the Moon, taken on December 21, 2013. This sequence was taken from a television broadcast, aligned to correct for the motion of the camera, and its color adjusted.

A little story -- I didn't know the date of the image but could figure it out with some help from Phil Stooke's route map, below. We have a side view of the rover in motion, so it was taken before the December 22 drive when the rover drove due south. We know it was after lunar noon, so it can't have been taken when the rover was on the due-south leg of its circumnavigation of the lander. It had to be facing southwest. Thus, the video was taken on December 21.

Yutu route map to 2013-12-23

CNSA / NASA / GSFC / ASU / Phil Stooke

Yutu route map to 2013-12-23

So what is the current plan for the mission? An update about the state of the mission was posted in English at yesterday. They quote lunar exploration program chief designer Wu Weiren as saying:

Ten pictures have been taken at five spots so far, and all of them are better than we expected. The rover has moved in a semi-circle around the lander. Afterwards, they will begin to conduct scientific explorations of the geography and geomorphology of the landing spot and nearby areas, and materials like minerals and elements there. We will also explore areas 30 meters and 100 meters beneath the lunar soil [This refers to the ground-penetrating radar instrument --ESL]. The exploration will continue longer than we planned, because all the instruments and equipments are working very well.

That's good news! This story from adds to that, stating that the rover's arm has safely been deployed for the first time. The mission is hurrying to complete checkouts of the rover systems before night begins to fall and the rover has to hibernate for two weeks, beginning December 26.

You can see from the map that the rover has left the lander behind, embarking on her lunar journey, toward the south. Here is a lovely picture of that. This is the first picture I have seen from the Chang'e 3 mission that appears to be a direct-to-the-Web digital image -- it has not been through multiple video compressions first. Absolutely lovely.

Yutu begins her lunar journey

CNSA / Gordan Ugarkovic

Yutu begins her lunar journey
The Chang'e 3 lander took this photo of the rover Yutu on December 22, 2013. The rover had completed a semicircular tour of the lander and was departing the lander due south. This version of the image has been white-balanced and color-corrected.

I tweeted this image over the weekend, and among the responses I received was one from Curiosity engineer Bobak Ferdowsi, who remarked on how strange it was to see a brightly lit rover on the surface with black black black space above it. So different from Mars!

Several commenters asked why no stars are visible in the sky. If you can see space, why no stars? It's a matter of contrast -- there is so much light being reflected off of the lunar surface that the exposure of the photo is too short to reveal the far fainter stars in the sky. However, if you pointed a camera at space and prevented stray Moon-light from entering your camera's field of view, you'd be able to take longer exposures and you'd see plenty of stars. In fact, that's one of the experiments on the Chang'e 3 lander -- astronomy performed by a camera sitting on the airless surface of the Moon.

Here's another picture of the rover at the same position (you can tell from features on the ground), except the rover has rotated and the mast is tilted down -- maybe for imaging of the surface?

Yutu on the Moon


Yutu on the Moon
Taken December 22, 2013 when the rover was 18 meters from the lander.

And now, some views of the lander. Here's the best one I've seen, taken after the rover drove around to the lander's south, so now it's nicely lit. There are a few more views of the lander from different perspectives (grabbed from television broadcasts, so they are lower quality), shared in this post on

Chang'e 3 on the surface of the Moon


Chang'e 3 on the surface of the Moon
Yutu took this photo of Chang'e 3 on December 21 or 22. You can see the rover's tracks in the lunar soil behind the lander at the right.

Ricardo Nunes pointed out at that two of the photos were taken from slightly different perspectives. That means I can give you a 3D photo of the lander on the Moon! Get your red-blue glasses, or select one of the other 3D display options below!

3D view of Chang'e 3 on the surface of the Moon

CNSA / Emily Lakdawalla

3D view of Chang'e 3 on the surface of the Moon
Two views of the Chang'e 3 lander taken by the Yutu rover on December 22, 2013 were processed to create this 3D view.

Crossed-eye stereo

Parallel-eye stereo

Flicker gif

These photos were part of a post-landing campaign of mutual imaging of rover and lander. Here's a graphic describing the campaign.

Mutual imaging of Chang'e 3 lander and rover
Mutual imaging of Chang'e 3 lander and rover
The bold text reads: "5 spots, 5 angles." The distance from lander to rover was about 9 meters at point A and 10 meters at points B and C. At point E the rover had driven 18 meters from the lander.

Editorial note: Christmas is in two days, and I'm going to try to take some time off in the next week, so this may be my last post for several days, unless something happens that I can't not write about. Happy solstice and merry Christmas!

See other posts from December 2013


Or read more blog entries about: pretty pictures, pics of spacecraft in space, mission status, the Moon, Chang'E program


Jim Scotti: 12/23/2013 11:19 CST

Looking at the rocks on the lunar surface in the rolling video, I'd say this was taken when the rover started moving away from point "B" on the map which was on the 20th. I don't see any rocks in the hi-res map at the location on the 21st that would match those 2.

jjaquinta: 12/24/2013 10:54 CST

Thanks for the updates! You seem to be virtually the only person covering Chang'e 3. It's just not in the news at all. When you're back from the holidays you might give an analysis of why that is.

Shreerang Kaulgi: 12/25/2013 12:51 CST

Great updates! If the current north can be superimposed on the photographs, it will help to understand the current location and direction of the objects better. The stereo photograph was a bit of disappointment at least through the Red-Blue goggle that I have currently have. It must be magnificent through a proper equipment. Looking forward to more updates.

Shreerang Kaulgi: 12/25/2013 01:01 CST

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!

Manuel Markus: 12/26/2013 06:37 CST

Fake`s Inventions, where are the pictures??

John Littlewood: 12/27/2013 12:31 CST

Thank you for your detailed and insightful coverage of the Chang'e 3 mission. I appreciate that it's lots of work on your part, but I share your thrill at what's been done. Carl would have been proud. John

Conan Doral: 12/28/2013 07:57 CST

Did the Chinese government get special permission from 'Gods' to explore their secret yard around the earth? Why...we the people of Gods...

Conan Doral: 12/28/2013 10:23 CST

I'd like to say: The China Space on lunar mission will launch the second wave of space race among Russia and States in Post Cold War era, and there is a fact: we're not alone by means... By 2020 the Chinese will build and launch their first called 'Sino Space Lab' not a starship into the space, that's another version of ISS. Then they will send a first Taikonaut landing on the moon, and you can imagine that first guy or girl one hand hold a Red flag with Five stars and another hand catch a mooncake start eating...God Damn, where's my choco Mars?

Jetmanflyhigh: 01/02/2014 02:57 CST

Dear Siegfried, Your assertion that the United States Apollo 11 mission could not have sent US astronauts to the moon based on your theories in this blog are obviously flawed and inaccurate. Item 2.8 'Radiation physical and astrophysical facts are limited in science and scope. Van Allen Radiation Belts A common claim of the moon landing conspiracy theorists is that Apollo was impossible because the Van Allen Radiation Belts (VARB) form an impenetrable barrier to human space flight beyond low Earth orbit. Aside from the fact that the man after which the VARB are named, Dr. James Van Allen, has specifically repudiated the claim, there are several things wrong with this theory. One reason is specifically relevant to this web page - the Apollo missions didn't fly straight through the teeth of the VARB, they mostly went around them. The Van Allen Radiation Belts are a torus of energetic charged particles circling Earth around its magnetic equator and held in place by Earth's magnetic field. The VARB are split into two distinct belts, with energetic electrons forming the outer belt and a combination of protons and electrons forming the inner belt. The energy and density of the particles varies by many orders of magnitude depending on where inside the VARB one is located. As we have seen from the previous illustrations, Apollo 11's translunar trajectory was inclined, allowing the spacecraft to rise rapidly above the equatorial plane as it headed away from Earth. (Although we've been dealing specifically with Apollo 11, all Apollo missions flew similar trajectories.) Since we know Apollo 11's equatorial latitude and radial distance from Earth, we can easily calculate the spacecraft's horizontal and vertical distances from Earth relative to the geographic equator and axis of rotation. Apollo 11's distance from Earth in the equatorial plane is R×cos(d), and the altitude above the equator is R×sin(d). Please refer to my colleague's site:

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