Astronomy

How open is China in sharing data from the Chang'e 4 mission?

How open is China in sharing data from the Chang'e 4 mission?


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It's really good to see that man (well, machine) has gone back to the moon again.

Chang'e 4 is studying potential mantle material from the lunar depths and will be conducting radio astronomy in frequencies that simply aren't possible from Earth.

There's a huge amount to be learned that will fill some gaps in our knowledge of the early Moon, Earth, and the Solar system as well as the wider galaxy and beyond.

Will this information be open for the greater scientific community, or will we have to rely on the Chinese scientists to collate and publish the data as and when they can do?


Different space agencies and different governments have different policies about archiving their data. One commonality that I have found, though, is that their systems are often difficult to find, they are often difficult to navigate or search and get the data, and then just as difficult sometimes to process. Sometimes, they also require an account.

Doing an internet search for simply "Chang'e 4 data archive" linked me to this conference abstract as the first link, which was presented at the mid-2019 Data Users' Workshop in Flagstaff, AZ. The abstract explains the different data types (such as level 0A, level 1, level 2C, etc.) and the different instruments, and it also explains their data archiving plan.

Perhaps more important for this question, it provides a link to China's "Data Release and Information Service System" within China's Lunar Exploration Program.

It has a lovely English translation button in the upper-left, so clicking on that (because I do not speak nor read any type of Chinese), and the news to the right shows they have Chang'e 4's 12th data release as their most recent posting. You can follow through the links and find the data archived there, or, this is a direct link to the search engine.

Of course, as with any mission, agency, or government, you have to assume that they are publishing everything, but I see no specific reason to doubt that in this case. Keep in mind, though, that there is always a waiting period between the time the data are taken and the time they are posted on public archives. With NASA, that is usually 6 months, though at the start of mission data returns it can be more like 12 months. So, just because data might not go up through today in these archives, that does not mean that they won't in 6-12 months.


China's Chang'E 4 mission discovers new 'secrets' from far side of the moon

A lunar lander named for the Chinese goddess of the moon may have lessened the mystery of the far side of the moon. The fourth probe of Chang'E (CE-4) was the first mission to land on the far side of the moon, and it has collected new evidence from the largest crater in the solar system, clarifying how the moon may have evolved.

The results were published on May 16, 2019, in Nature.

A theory emerged in the 1970s that in the moon's infancy, an ocean made of magma covered its surface. As the molten ocean began to calm and cool, lighter minerals floated to the top, while heavier components sank. The top crusted over in a sheet of mare basalt, encasing a mantle of dense minerals, such as olivine and pyroxene.

As asteroids and space junk crashed into the surface of the moon, they cracked through the crust and kicked up pieces of the lunar mantel.

"Understanding the composition of the lunar mantel is critical for testing whether a magma ocean ever existed, as postulated," said corresponding author LI Chunlai, a professor of the National Astronomical Observatories of Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC). "It also helps advance our understanding of the thermal and magmatic evolution of the moon."

The evolution of the moon may provide a window into the evolution of Earth and other terrestrial planets, according to LI, because its surface is relatively untouched compared to, say, the early planetary surface of Earth.

LI and his team landed CE-4 in the moon's South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin, which stretches about 2,500 kilometers-about half the width of China. CE-4 collected spectral data samples from the flat stretches of the basin, as well as from other, smaller but deeper impact craters within the basin.

The researchers expected to find a wealth of excavated mantle material on the flat floor of the SPA basin, since the originating impact would have penetrated well into and past the lunar crust. Instead, they found mere traces of olivine, the primary component of the Earth's upper mantle.

"The absence of abundant olivine in the SPA interior remains a conundrum," LI said. "Could the predictions of an olivine-rich lunar mantle be incorrect?"

Not quite. As it turns out, more olivine appeared in the samples from deeper impacts. One theory, according to LI, is that the mantle consists of equal parts olivine and pyroxene, rather than being dominated by one over the other.

CE-4 will need to explore more to better understand the geology of its landing site, as well as collect much more spectral data to validate its initial findings and to fully understand the composition of the lunar mantle.

This work was supported by the Chang'E-4 mission of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program.

Other contributors from the Key Laboratory of Lunar and Deep Space Exploration in the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences include LIU Dawei, LIU Bin, REN Xin, LIU Jianjun, ZUO Wei, ZENG Xingguo, TAN Xu, ZHANG Xiaoxia, CHEN Wangli, WEN Weibin, SU Yan, ZHANG Hongbo, and OUYANG Ziyuan, who is also affiliated with the Institute of Geochemistry. HE Zhiping, XU Rui, and SHU Rong of the Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics also contributed.

About the National Astronomical Observatories of Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC):

The National Astronomical Observatories of Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC) was officially founded in April 2001 through the merger of observatories, stations and research center under Chinese Academy of Sciences. It is headquartered in Beijing and has four subordinate units across the country: the Yunnan Observatory (YNAO), the Nanjing Institute of Astronomical Optics and Technology (NIAOT), the Xinjiang Astronomical Observatory (XAO) and the Changchun Observatory. NAOC conducts cutting-edge astronomical studies, and operates major national facilities including The Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fiber Spectroscopy Telescope (LAMOST), the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) etc.

NAOC's main research involves cosmological large-scale structures, the formation and evolution of galaxies and stars, high-energy astrophysics, solar magnetism and activity, lunar and deep space exploration, and astronomical instrumentation. NAOC has seven major research divisions in the areas of optical astronomy, radio astronomy, galaxies and cosmology, space science, solar physics, lunar and deep space exploration, and applications in astronomy.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.


China launches sample-return mission to the Moon

China has successfully launched a mission to bring back rocks from the Moon– the first attempt to do so for nearly 45 years. Chang’e-5 was launched at 4:30 a.m. local time today by a Long March 5 rocket from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center. Once it lands on the Moon it is expected to grab up to two kilograms of soil from an area not previously sampled to better understand the evolution history of our closest neighbour.

Chang’e-5, weighing 8.2 tonnes, consists of four parts: an ascender, lander, returner and orbiter. Upon entering the Moon’s orbit, the ascender and lander will separate and touch down in the Mons Rümker region — a volcanic mound in the northwestern part of the Moon’s near side. The lander will use a panoramic camera, spectrometer and ground-penetrating radar among other payloads to document the landing site. It will also use a robotic arm to scoop up small rocks from the surface and drill up to 2 m into the ground.

Chang’e-5 is an important step in the plan. One that deserves close attention

John Logsdon

Once the sampling is done and before the lunar night falls, the ascender will lift off from the top of the lander and dock with the returner-orbiter in orbit. The sample container is then transferred to the returner, which will head back to the Earth. Using a technology called ballistic re-entry, the returner will safely travel through the Earth’s atmosphere towards a planned landing site in Inner Mongolia, north China. It is expected that most of the returned samples will be stored at the National Astronomical Observatories of China, Chinese Academy of Science, in Beijing with possible access by foreign scientists through collaboration with Chinese colleagues.

Rock collector

Scientists believe that part of Mons Rümker might have formed 1-2 billion years ago, being much younger than the sites visited by US and Soviet sample-return missions that were over three billion years old. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, six US Apollo crewed landings brought back 382 kg of rocks from the Moon while three Soviet Luna robotic missions returned 0.326 kg. The samples from the Chinese mission will help scientists improve their model to estimate the age of surfaces in the solar system, from rocky planets such as Mars and Mercury to asteroids. Surface ages are roughly defined by crater densities: more craters, older surfaces.

If the age of Chang’e-5 samples are confirmed to be 1-2 billion years, it may challenge our current theory on the formation of the Moon, which should have cooled off by that time due to its small size and limited “heat budget”. Scientists would need to find out what had fuelled those volcanic eruptions. “[Chang’e-5] can lead to a whole new understanding of recent volcanisms on the Moon,” says Clive Neal from the University of Notre Dame in the US. “The new samples from Chang’e-5 will give us a way to quantify the younger end of the crater-counting curve.”

As China’s most complex and ambitious lunar mission so far, Chang’e-5 could go wrong in many ways. “Safe return is the most important thing for a first attempt,” adds Neal. Brett Denevi from the Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University, who has analyzed Apollo lunar samples, notes that China has picked “one of the best places to go” for a lunar sample-return mission. “That’s why this mission has attracted broad, international interests,” she adds, cautioning that 2 kg is an ambitious target. “Two grams can already teach us a lot,” she says.

China is also working on multiple follow-up lunar missions that will eventually lead to a human mission in the 2030s. These include Chang’e-6, which will return samples from the south pole, as well as Chang’e-7 that will perform a detailed survey of the south polar region. With renewed interest in lunar exploration and the advances in sampling and analytic capabilities, space-policy expert John Logsdon from George Washington University says that Chang’e-5 could “set a new standard” for robotic lunar exploration. “Chang’e-5 is an important step in the plan,” says Logsdon. “One that deserves close attention.”


China’s lander releases data, high-resolution images of the Moon

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A little more than one year ago, China's Chang'e 4 spacecraft landed on the far side of the Moon. In doing so, it became the first-ever vehicle to make a soft landing on the side of the Moon facing away from Earth.

To mark the one-year anniversary, China released a batch of scientific data and images captured by five scientific payloads aboard the 1.2-ton spacecraft and its small Yutu 2 rover. Since the landing, the rover has driven a little more than 350 meters across the Moon's surface, studying rock formations and taking additional photos. The data was collected over a period of 12 lunar "days," or most of the last year.

Further Reading

The lander itself carried an excellent camera to image its surroundings. Extra sharp with a good color balance, the Terrain Camera was mounted at the top of the lander, with the ability to rotate 360 degrees. Before it died at the end of the first lunar day, this TCAM returned detailed images of the Moon. A helpful Twitter user in France, Techniques Spatiales, converted the camera's imagery into .png files, which can be found here.

The Chang'e 4 spacecraft landed in the South Pole-Aitken basin in the southern hemisphere of the far side of the Moon. The lander and rover have produced the best in situ data of the unexplored far side of the Moon to date, including radar and radiation measurements of the largely unexplored environment.

After this success, China intends to launch the Chang'e 5 mission late this year. It has the ambitious goal of returning as much as 2kg of lunar regolith to Earth, and is scheduled to launch on a Long March 5 rocket near the end of this year. It would be by far the most complicated robotic mission China has ever attempted and if successful would return the first lunar samples to Earth since the Soviet Luna 24 mission in 1976.


China set to attempt first lunar sample return mission in four decades

Chinese scientists and engineers are counting down to launch of a heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket Monday with the Chang’e 5 mission, an ambitious attempt to land on the moon, drill samples from beneath the lunar surface, and return the material to Earth.

The mission is set for launch around 3:35 p.m. EST (2035 GMT) from the Wenchang space center on Hainan Island, China’s newest spaceport, according to the European Space Agency, which is providing communications and tracking support for Chang’e 5.

The nearly 20-story Long March 5 rocket — the largest rocket in China’s fleet — will send the Chang’e 5 spacecraft on a trajectory toward the moon, where it will enter orbit before releasing a landing craft to descend to the lunar surface.

The exact timeline for the mission has not been released by Chinese officials, but the lander is expected to touch down near Mons Rümker, a volcanic formation that extends more than 4,000 feet — or about 1,300 meters — above the surrounding lava plains.

Chang’e 5’s landing site is located in the Oceanus Procellarum, or Ocean of Storms, region in the northern hemisphere of the near side of the moon.

Once on the moon, Chang’e 5 will extract up to 4.4 pounds, or 2 kilograms, of material from a depth of up to 6.6 feet, or 2 meters, below the surface. Then the specimens will launch back into lunar orbit aboard a small rocket, rendezvous with a return craft, and head for Earth.

The return carrier will re-enter the atmosphere at some 25,000 mph, or 40,000 kilometers per hour, significantly faster than a re-enter from low Earth orbit. The capsule will will land around Dec. 15 in China’s Inner Mongolia region, where teams will retrieve the moon specimens and transport the material to a lab for analysis.

The sample return mission, if successful, will mark the first time lunar material has been returned to Earth since 1976, when the Soviet Union’s robotic Luna 24 mission brought back around 170 grams, or 6 ounces, of specimens from the lunar surface.

Nine missions have returned moon samples to Earth, including NASA’s six Apollo missions with astronauts, and three robotic Luna spacecraft launched by the Soviet Union.

Before Chang’e 5, China has successfully dispatched four robotic explorers to the moon, beginning with the Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 orbiters in 2007 and 2010. In 2013, China landed the Chang’e 3 mission on the moon with a mobile rover that drove across the lunar surface.

China’s most challenging lunar mission to date was Chang’e 4, which accomplished the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon in January 2019. Chang’e 4’s rover continues operating, sending back imagery and scientific data through a dedicated relay satellite China placed in a position beyond far side of the moon to transmit signals between Earth and the Chang’e 4 spacecraft.

The Chang’e missions are named for a moon goddess in Chinese folklore.

China has a backup to the Chang’e 5 spacecraft named Chang’e 6. If Chang’e 5 is successful, Chang’e 6 could attempt a sample return mission from the far side of the moon.

Unlike Chang’e 5, which is an all-Chinese mission, the Chang’e 6 spacecraft will carry foreign instruments to the lunar surface. The French space agency, CNES, announced last year that it will provide an instrument for the Chang’e 6 mission to study the moon’s exosphere and water cycle.

China is also planning a robotic station on the moon’s south pole before a possible landing on the moon with Chinese astronauts in the 2030s.

Chinese officials have signaled they are open to partnering with other countries on lunar exploration. Instruments developed by scientists in Sweden, Germany, and Saudi Arabia have flown to the moon on past Chinese mission.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.


Data availability

Reflectance data for CE4_0015 and CE4_0016 are provided in Source Data. The source data for the Chang’E-2 Digital Orthophoto Map and the Chang’E-4 Terrain Camera image (Fig. 1) are available from the Data Publishing and Information Service System of China’s Lunar Exploration Program (http://moon.bao.ac.cn). LSCC data are available from LSCC (http://www.planetary.brown.edu/relabdocs/LSCCsoil.html). Datasets generated or analysed during this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


Filling an astronomy gap

The far side of the Moon has long been regarded as an ideal spot for conducting a particular kind of radio astronomy - in the low-frequency band - because it's shielded from the radio noise of Earth.

There's a frequency band (below about 10MHz) where radio astronomy observations can't be conducted from Earth, because of manmade radio interference and other, natural factors.

Changɾ-4's lander is carrying an instrument called the Low Frequency Spectrometer (LFS) which can make low frequency radio observations. It will be used in concert with a similar experiment on the Queqiao orbiting satellite.

The objectives include making a map of the radio sky at low frequencies and studying the behaviour of the Sun.

Speaking in 2016, Liu Tongjie, from the Chinese space agency (CNSA), said: "Since the far side of the Moon is shielded from electromagnetic interference from the Earth, it's an ideal place to research the space environment and solar bursts, and the probe can 'listen' to the deeper reaches of the cosmos."

Thus, the mission will fill a gap in astronomical observation, allowing scientists to study cosmic phenomena in a way that has never been possible from our planet.


Terra incognita

It takes the moon about the same amount of time to spin once on its axis as it does for the natural satellite to orbit the Earth: 27.3 days. Because of this "tidal locking," we only ever see one face of the moon, which we call the near side.

This familiar face has welcomed many visitors over the years, both robotic and human all six of NASA's crewed Apollo missions to the lunar surface touched down on the near side. The far side is a much tougher target for surface exploration, because the moon's rocky bulk would block direct communication with any landers or rovers there. (And don't call it "the dark side" the far side gets just as much sunlight as the near side.)

To deal with this issue, China launched a relay satellite called Queqiao in May 2018. Queqiao set up shop at the Earth-moon Lagrange point 2, a gravitationally stable spot beyond the moon from which the satellite can keep both Chang'e 4 and its home planet in sight.

The data flow through Queqiao will likely be extensive. Chang'e 4, which launched on Dec. 7 and entered lunar orbit 4.5 days later, boasts eight science instruments: four apiece on a stationary lander and a mobile rover.

The lander features the Landing Camera, the Terrain Camera, the Low Frequency Spectrometer, and the Lunar Lander Neutrons and Dosimetry, which was provided by Germany. The rover has the Panoramic Camera, the Lunar Penetrating Radar, the Visible and Near-Infrared Imaging Spectrometer, and the Advanced Small Analyzer for Neutrals, which Sweden contributed.

Chang'e 4 will therefore be able to characterize its surroundings in great detail, probing the composition of the surface as well as the layered structure of the ground beneath the lander's feet. Such observations could help researchers better understand why the lunar near and far sides are so different, scientists have said. For example, dark volcanic plains called "maria" cover much of the near side but are nearly absent on the far side. (We do have good imagery of the far side from above, thanks to spacecraft such as NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.)

The mission should beam home some intriguing and dramatic imagery as well Von Kármán Crater lies within the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin, one of the largest impact features in the solar system. The SPA basin measures a whopping 1,550 miles (2,500 km) from rim to rim and is about 7.5 miles (12 km) deep.

In addition, Chang'e 4 totes a biological experiment, which will track how silkworms, tomatoes and Arabidopsis plants grow and develop on the lunar surface. The mission will also make radio-astronomy observations, taking advantage of the exceptional peace and quiet of the far side. (Queqiao is also gathering astronomy data, using an instrument of its own called the Netherlands-China Low-Frequency Explorer.) [China's Moon Missions Explained (Infographic)]


Landing site

The CNSA has remained tight-lipped about many of the mission&rsquos details, including the landing site. The most likely location is inside a 186-kilometre-wide crater called Von Kármán, says Zongcheng Ling, who studies the formation and evolution of planetary bodies at Shandong University in Weihai and is a member of the mission&rsquos science team. &ldquoWe scientists are very happy&rdquo to have the chance to visit the far side, says Ling.

The crater is part of the South Pole&ndashAitken basin, the largest known impact structure in the Solar System and the oldest on the Moon.

&ldquoIt is a key area to answer several important questions about the early history of the Moon, including its internal structure and thermal evolution,&rdquo says Bo Wu, a geoinformatician at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, who helped describe the topography and geomorphology of this site.

The Chang&rsquoe-4 rover will map the region surrounding the landing site. It will also measure the thickness and shape of the subsurface layers using ground-penetrating radar, and measure the mineral composition at the surface with a near and infrared spectrometer, which could help geologists to understand the processes involved in the Moon&rsquos early evolution.

Because the far side of the Moon never faces Earth, CNSA mission control won&rsquot be able to communicate directly with the craft once it has landed. In May, China launched a communications satellite called Queqiao to beyond the Moon where it can act as a relay station for communications between the lander and Earth.


China comes out of COVID-19 ‘absolutely laughing’

An Aussie journalist who fled China says the difference between what you hear about COVID-19 there compared to elsewhere is unfathomable.

IPhones, cars, furniture could all rise in cost if our trade with China stalls.

iPhones, cars, furniture could all rise in cost if our trade with China stalls.

The Australian Financial Review's Michael Smith and the ABC's Bill Birtles flew out of Shanghai. Source: ABC Source:Supplied

A journalist who was recently forced to flee China on the advice of the Australian government says the country has come out of COVID-19 “absolutely laughing”.

Bill Birtles, who was the ABC’s China correspondent in Beijing from 2015 until a few weeks ago, said it was a “parallel world” between what was being heard about COVID-19 there compared to elsewhere.

“It is almost unfathomably different,” he told a Lowy Institute webinar discussion about Australia’s fractured ties with China.

𠇎verybody has kind of moved on from the whole Wuhan stuff-up in China . the coverage has been shaped . to a narrative controlled by the party.

“On the ground, China has absolutely smashed COVID.”

Mr Birtles said the government had almost eliminated domestic transmission among a population of 1.4 billion people, compared to countries like India, the US and Brazil, which was an 𠇎xtraordinary achievement”.

ABC journalist Bill Birtles waving as he arrived in Sydney after leaving China amid worsening diplomatic relations between the two countries. Picture: Taryn Southcombe/ABC News/AFP Source:AFP

He said the US also gave China a “gift” with its terrible handling of the virus, which had been �solutely exploited for all political gain domestically” in China through the state media.

“People who kind of say ‘maybe this is China’s Chernobyl’ or something, they really underestimate the many levers of political control, and media control, and information control that the party now has,” he said.

“I can’t imagine a stronger position for the party to be in, except of course for the US trade war.

𠇋ut certainly on COVID, they’ve come out of it absolutely laughing.”

Michael Smith, who was the Australian Financial Review’s China correspondent based in Shanghai from 2018 until he too was forced out, described the pair’s recent experience as being “pawns in a wider game”.

“I’m quite disappointed to leave the way we did. It just feels like a real shame for journalism,” he said.

“It’s obviously going to be hard to get back in there for a while.”

Mr Birtles said his impression was it was a tit-for-tat diplomatic issue that didn’t personally relate to them.



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