China's second lunar mission, Chang'e-2 (inset) snapped a photo of a crater in the Bay of Rainbows after entering lunar orbit in 2010. The country's next lunar mission, Chang'e-5 (artist's concept, right) is scheduled for launch as early as November. It will land on the Ocean of Storms and gather a few pounds of rocks and soil for return to Earth. [China Lunar Exploration Program (left); NASA (2)]
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Moon and Aldebaran
It’s been 44 years since any new samples of the Moon were brought to Earth. But a new delivery could arrive in a few months. A Chinese mission scheduled for launch by the end of the year could scoop up several pounds of rock and dirt.
It’ll be China’s fifth lunar mission. The second was just settling into lunar orbit 10 years ago today.
Chang’e-2 compiled one of the best maps of the Moon to date. It also scouted possible landing sites for the next mission.
After that, Chang’e-2 left lunar orbit. It orbited a point in space where the gravitational pull of Earth, Moon, and Sun are balanced. Then it headed out again, to tag along with an asteroid that passes close to Earth.
A lander and a rover followed Chang’e-2. And Chang’e-5 will continue that progression by bringing samples to Earth.
It will land atop a large mound on the edge of the Ocean of Storms, one of the dark markings on the lunar surface. The mound includes several volcanic cones. So the samples could include rocks that came from deep inside the Moon.
Chang’e-5 will scoop up dirt and rocks at the surface, and drill for more rocks from several feet below the surface. It’ll store the samples in a small rocket, which will link up with an orbiter for the trip home.
Look for the Moon climbing into good view by 10:30 or 11 tonight. Aldebaran, the bright eye of the bull, will rise to the right of the Moon, and perch below the Moon at first light.
Script by Damond Benningfield