China has announced its intent to send a lunar probe to the far side of the moon within the next five years, a senior scientist working on the project said.
Zou Yongliao, from the moon exploration department of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said his country would be the first to reach the “dark” side of the moon, if the project succeeded.
The mission will be used to study geological conditions on the moon’s far side, which is not visible from earth.
Zou said the far side of the moon had a “clean electromagnetic environment, which provides an ideal field for low frequency study”.
“If we can can place a frequency spectrograph on the far side, we can fill a void,” Zou said.
The probe, Chang’e-4, is similar to the ones used in China’s previous lunar missions, but will have a higher payload.
China became the third country, after the US and the former Soviet Union, to land a probe on lunar soil when it’s Chang’e-3 probe reached the moon in 2013.
Michael Brown, an observational astronomer at Monash University in the Australian city of Melbourne, told Al Jazeera that landing on the far side of the moon posed challenges because earth cannot be seen from it and so mission controllers faced difficulty communicating with spacecraft.
“The communication problem will be solved by having a spacecraft orbiting the moon to relay radio signals from the far side of the moon back to earth,” Brown said.
“This shouldn’t be too difficult a problem to solve, given spacecraft orbiting Mars regularly relay signals from the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers that are driving around on that planet.”
“The Chinese space programme has demonstrated that they can land on the moon and build communications satellites, so their goal to land on the far side of the moon by 2020 is certainly feasible.”
The moon’s far side, contrary to common misconceptions, is not dark, but is never seen from earth as its rotational period is the same as its orbital period, Brown said.
“While it’s sometimes called the ‘dark side of the moon’, the sun does rise and set there … we can thank Pink Floyd for the misnomer.”