The secrets of the Moon
In January, China became the first nation to land a probe on the mysterious “dark side” of the Moon. Now, it says it is planning to build a research base on the Moon’s South Pole.
Wait, there is a dark side of the Moon?
Yes and no. The term that scientists prefer is “far side”. From Earth, we can only ever see one side of the Moon. This is because it takes just as long for the Moon to turn once on its own axis as it does to complete an orbit of the Earth.
However, the side we cannot see is not actually always in darkness. Just like Earth, the Moon orbits the Sun — so the regions in darkness are constantly changing.
Even so, this “dark” side has often been the subject of wild theories. Aliens, secret military bases and even a castle have been claimed to be hidden there.
And we have never been there before?
That’s right. Crew members of the NASA Apollo missions glimpsed it, but Neil Armstrong took his famous “small step” on the near side.
What could the mission discover?
Plenty. This week, China released some beautiful pictures taken on the far side of the Moon.
The Chang’e 4 probe has landed in a place called the South Pole-Aitken basin. Seven times deeper than the Grand Canyon, it cuts deep into the Moon’s surface. By using a radar, scientists hope to discover more about how the Moon was formed.
This process could also shed light on one of the most dramatic events in the history of the solar system: the Late Heavy Bombardment. Between 700 million and one billion years ago, scientists believe that a huge number of objects were sent crashing through the solar system — some of which may have smashed into the far side of the Moon.
Then, there is water. Chang’e 4 is scouring an area known to contain large amounts water ice. How much? How deep is it buried? We do not know. The probe could find out.
If there is water, does that mean we could live there?
Possibly. Chang’e 4 is trying to work that out too. It will be tracking radiation levels and taking soil samples to see if we could live there long-term.
One of its more precious pieces of cargo is a biosphere. This is a small container carrying six live species from Earth: cotton, rapeseed, potato, fruit fly, yeast and arabidopsis (a plant which could produce the first flower on the Moon). It is hoped that this experiment will determine if life can survive in sealed, low-gravity environments.
Will man walk on the Moon again any time soon?
If all goes to plan. China will begin building its own space station next year.
This week, it announced that it planned to send a manned mission to the Moon, and build a research centre near the Moon’s South Pole in the next 10 years.
President Donald Trump also wants to send Americans back to the Moon in five years, including the first woman to walk on the Moon.
- Would you like to live on the Moon?
- Draw a design for your own Moon base. How would it work? How would people live, work, eat, sleep and relax? Present your design to the class.
- The central line around which a planet rotates.
- When one object moves around another object.
- An invention which uses radio waves to detect hidden objects.
- Energy which can be harmful to humans.