China unveils snapshots of moon

The photos, made public by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao Monday, highlighted part of the moon's Sinus Iridium, or Bay of Rainbows, the area proposed for China's first unmanned soft-landing around 2013, China Daily reported Tuesday.

"The relaying back of the pictures shows that the Chang'e-2 mission is a success," said Zhang Jiahao, director of the lunar exploration centre under the China National Space Administration.

One of the pictures, taken Oct 28 from 18.7 km above the lunar surface, shows an eight-km wide, 15.9-km-long area of the Bay of Rainbows.

It shows the surface is "quite flat" with craters and rocks of different sizes and a large hole with a two-kilometre diameter, a statement by the administration said.
The bay was formed by a massive impact billions of years ago, and is considered one of the moon's most beautiful landmarks, the daily said.

But the bay is only one of the proposed spots for the unmanned landing attempt, as Chang'e-2 has also taken images of other possible landing areas, said Yan Jun, chief scientist of China's lunar exploration project.

"The exact spot for a soft-landing has not been decided yet," he said.

The Chang'e-2 probe was launched Oct 1 and went into orbit eight days later. It first circled the moon at a distance of 100 km, and then dropped into orbit about 15 km above the lunar surface. After taking the images it will return to a 100-km orbit to conduct a study of the lunar surface.

The probe was designed to test technology for Chang'e-3, which will land on the lunar surface and release a moon rover around 2013.

The lunar pictures have a resolution of up to 1.3 metres, much clearer than images taken by its predecessor Chang'e-1, with a resolution of 120 metres.

"With such a high resolution, it means that from the pictures you can tell a pit of 4 metres in diameter on the moon or a rock with a diameter of 3 metres," Yan said.

In the next five months, Chang'e-2 will continue taking pictures of the moon and conduct scientific experiments to refine the findings recorded by Chang'e-1, a senior official said.

China's first lunar probe, launched in October 2007, ended its mission by crashing into the moon after orbiting for 16 months. Among other achievements, it acquired a three-dimensional map of the moon's surface.

China has a three-stage lunar exploration programme, with both Chang'e-2 and Chang'e-3 part of the second stage leading to an unmanned moon landing.
The third stage aims to bring a moon rock sample back to Earth in 2017.

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