China Put a Robotic Telescope on the Moon 2 Years Ago—and It's Working Great

Illustration for article titled China Put a Robotic Telescope on the Moon 2 Years Ago—and It's Working Great

You may remember that it’s two years since China put its first lunar rover onto the moon. What you might not know, though, is that the lander that took it there also carried a robotic telescope — and now Chinese researchers have described how well it’s been working.


New Scientist reports that the ultraviolet light telescope — in fact the first ever telescope put on the moon to be remotely operated from Earth — was carried to the moon aboard Chang’e 3. While the rover it carried there, Yutu, finally gave up the ghost in March 2015, the telescope is still going strong. That’s partly because it gets stowed away in the lander at sunrise and sunset, when abrasive lunar dust that can damage the instrument gets whipped up. Yutu wasn’t afforded that luxury.

In the first report to detail the telescope’s performance, Chinese researchers explain that it’s been run for 2000 hours and gazed up at 40 stars. It’s also captured an image of the Pinwheel galaxy, which is shown above. OK, so the images aren’t the crisp astronomic images we might be used to seeing, but it’s virtually impossible to capture a UV image like this from Earth because of our atmosphere. So be grateful for what you get.

New Scientist points out that the Chinese team in charge of the telescope actually expected it to last just one year of operation on the moon, yet it continues to work today.

[arXiv via New Scientist]

Image by Chinese Academy of Sciences/The Bruce Murray Space Image Library/The Planetary Society


Good for them. I’ve been hoping for a large telescope to be built on the moon for a long time. Should be much cheaper/easier/repairable than a satellite and able to build much larger. I know this is beyond our reach (for now) but imagine something like the SKA or VLT not having to deal with light pollution or atmosphere.