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NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Views Chang'e Lunar Rover Landing Site

Published by Klaus Schmidt on Tue Mar 4, 2014 7:04 pm via: NASA
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Chang’e 3 landed on the moon’s Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains), on Dec. 14, 2013. The LROC instrument aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has now imaged the Chinese lander and rover three times: Dec. 25, 2013 (M1142582775R), Jan. 21, 2014 (M1144936321L), and Feb. 17, 2014 (M1147290066R).

From month-to-month the solar incidence angle decreased steadily from 77 degrees to 45 degrees (incidence angle at sunset is 90 degrees); due to the latitude of the site (44.1214 degrees north, 340.4884 degrees east, -2,630 meters elevation) the incidence angle cannot get much smaller. Solar incidence angle is a measure of the sun above the horizon; at noon on the equator the sun is overhead and the incidence angle is zero degrees, at dawn or dusk the incidence angle is 90 degrees.

Four LROC NAC views of the Chang'e 3 landing site. A) before landing, June 30, 2013 B) after landing, Dec. 25, 2013 C) Jan. 21, 2014 D) Feb. 17, 2014 Width of each image is 200 meters (about 656 feet). Follow Yutu's path clockwise around the lander in "D." Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Four LROC NAC views of the Chang'e 3 landing site. A) before landing, June 30, 2013 B) after landing, Dec. 25, 2013 C) Jan. 21, 2014 D) Feb. 17, 2014 Width of each image is 200 meters (about 656 feet). Follow Yutu's path clockwise around the lander in "D." Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

As the sun gets higher above the horizon, topography appears subdued and reflectance differences become more apparent. In the case of the Chang’e 3 site, with the sun higher in the sky one can now see the rover Yutu’s tracks (February image). In the opening image you can see Yutu about 30 meters (about 100 feet) south of the Chang’e lander, then it moved to the northwest and parked 17 meters (about 56 feet) southwest of the lander. In the February image it is apparent that Yutu did not move appreciably from the January location.

Owing to the lower solar incidence angle the latest NAC image better shows Yutu’s tracks and the lander engine blast zone (high reflectance) that runs north-to-south relative to the lander. Next month the solar incidence angle will again increase and subtle landforms will begin to dominate the landscape.

Animation of the above four LROC NAC images (short for Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, Narrow Angle Camera). Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Animation of the above four LROC NAC images (short for Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, Narrow Angle Camera). Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

LROC February 2014 image of Chang'e 3 site. Blue arrow indicates Chang'e 3 lander; yellow arrow points to Yutu (rover); and white arrow marks the December location of Yutu. Yutu's tracks can be followed clockwise around the lander to its current location. Image width 200 meters (about 656 feet). Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

LROC February 2014 image of Chang'e 3 site. Blue arrow indicates Chang'e 3 lander; yellow arrow points to Yutu (rover); and white arrow marks the December location of Yutu. Yutu's tracks can be followed clockwise around the lander to its current location. Image width 200 meters (about 656 feet). Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

LRO slewed 54 degrees to the east on Feb. 16, 2014, to allow the LROC instrument to snap a dramatic oblique view of the Chang'e 3 site (arrow). Crater in front of lander is 450 meters (about 1,476 feet) in diameter. Image width is 2,900 meters (about 9,500 feet) at the center. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

LRO slewed 54 degrees to the east on Feb. 16, 2014, to allow the LROC instrument to snap a dramatic oblique view of the Chang'e 3 site (arrow). Crater in front of lander is 450 meters (about 1,476 feet) in diameter. Image width is 2,900 meters (about 9,500 feet) at the center. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

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