China Rover Survives Lunar Night, May Recover
China’s first Moon rover, Yutu, which suffered a potentially serious mechanical malfunction last month, is now awake and has apparently survived its second lunar night, China’s Xinhua News Agency reported Feb. 13.
Scientists on the ground are still trying to pinpoint the problems that caused the rover’s mechanical malfunctions, but Yutu (which translates to “Jade Rabbit”) can now receive signals normally.
“Yutu has come back to life,” Xinhua reports Pei Zhaoyu, a representative with the Moon mission, said Feb. 13.
“Now that it is still alive, the rover stands a chance of being saved,” Pei said, according to Xinhua.
Yutu’s mechanical problems arose as the rover entered its second lunar night in late January. The specifics of the error are unknown, but some have speculated that lunar dust blocked Jade Rabbit’s mechanisms from functioning properly as it entered hibernation Jan. 25.
Chang’e 3, the Moon lander that is currently on the lunar surface with Yutu, is reportedly up and running after emerging from its hibernation.
Temperatures can vary wildly on the Moon, and some scientists worried that the Jade Rabbit would not be able to survive its second extremely cold 14-day lunar night due to the technical problems.
The Yutu rover and the Chang’e 3 lander are both solar powered but carry plutonium-powered batteries for heaters to keep both probes warm during the harsh lunar night.
One day on the Moon lasts 28 Earth days/nights. A lunar “day” is about two weeks long, and temperatures can be about 100 degrees Celsius during that time. During lunar night, temperatures can drop to minus 173 degrees Celsius.
Chang’e 3 landed on the Moon on Dec. 14, making China the third country to make a soft landing on the lunar surface. Just after the landing, the Yutu Moon rover was deployed to explore the Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains) where it landed. Chinese officials have said that the rover was expected to work for three months.
Yutu has already accomplished some science during its time roaming the Moon’s surface. The rover has already used its instruments to survey the lunar subsurface. The lander, built to function for one year, has observed Earth’s plasmasphere and used a telescope to see other, far off objects in the universe.
Fans of Yutu got to send it well wishes on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, according to Xinhua. The “Yutu Lunar Rover” account has posted updates about the mission since the rover touched down on the Moon’s surface, but it had not posted since the technical issues arose, the news agency added.
The rover’s account posted a short message after the Jade Rabbit emerged from its sleep. “Hi, anybody there?” it asked, Xinhua reports.
The post got about 60,000 reposts and 40,000 comments in two hours, according to Xinhua.