The Moon is taking on an international flavor. After decades of exploration by the United States and the Soviet Union, other countries are taking aim at our satellite world. Those nations have had some successes, and they’ve made ambitious plans for the future, too.
A couple of months ago, China successfully dropped a rover onto a dark volcanic plain that’s near the “top” of the Moon as seen from Earth. It was the first soft landing of any kind on the Moon since 1976.
Over the past few years, though, China and several other countries have slipped spacecraft into orbit around the Moon. The craft have provided new scientific insights. An Indian mission, for example, detected water mixed with the powdery dirt across much of the lunar surface.
For the future, India and Japan have announced plans for their own Moon rovers, while China’s planning to bring back samples of lunar rocks and soil. Russia’s working on a mission, too, in cooperation with European countries.
The United States is still in the Moon-exploring business, too. In the past decade, it’s sent orbiters that have mapped the Moon’s gravitational field, looked for ice at the lunar poles, and snapped the sharpest pictures of the Moon to date — a Moon that’s being explored by many countries.
And the Moon is full tonight. It’s accompanied by Regulus, the brightest star of Leo, the lion. Regulus is to the left of the Moon in early evening, and stays close throughout the night.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.