First Look: Chang'e 6

Overhead image of a normal-looking lunar surface lit with a Sun elevation about 40 degrees above the horizon. At the center is a white dot, the Chang'e 6 lander, a few pixels across (about 3 meters), surrounded by a ten-to-thirty meter radius region of lighter-than-normal terrain. The lander is flanked by two craters similar in size to it, and is on the edge of a much more subtle crater about 50 meters wide.
This image from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera shows Chang'e 6 in the Apollo basin on the lunar farside on 07 June 2024. The lander is seen as the small cluster of bright pixels in the center of the image. Image is 552 meters wide; north is up. LROC NAC M1472410644L, projected at 85 centimeters/pixel and enlarged 2x. [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University]

The NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) imaged China's Chang'e 6 sample return spacecraft on the lunar farside on June 7th.  Chang'e 6 landed on 1 June, 2024, and when LRO passed over the landing site almost a week later, it acquired an image showing the Chang'e 6 lander on the rim of an eroded ~50 meter diameter crater. 

The LROC team computed the landing site coordinates as 41.6385°S, 206.0148°E, at -5256 meters elevation relative to the average lunar surface, with an estimated horizontal accuracy of plus-or-minus 30 meters.

Animation of the same image as the first image in this post, and a pre-landing image with identical lighting. The only change is the appearance of the lander, and the appearance of a lightened region surrounding the lander, extending up to fifty meters away.
Before/after animation showing the appearance of the Chang'e 6 lander.  The increased brightness of the terrain surrounding the lander is due to disturbance from the lander engine and is similar to the blast zone seen around other lunar landers. The before image (M1400946505L) is from 03 March 2022, and the after image (M1472410644L) is from 07 June 2024. Image is 650 m wide, north is up. [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University]

The Chang'e 6 landing site is situated on a mare unit at the southern edge of the Apollo basin (492 km diameter, centered at 36.1°S, 208.3°E). Basaltic lava erupted south of Chaffee S crater approximately 3.1 billion years ago (Ga) and flowed downhill to the east until it encountered a local topographic high, likely related to a fault. Several wrinkle ridges in this region have deformed and raised the mare surface. The landing site sits approximately halfway between two of these ridges. The lava flow also overlaps a slightly older flow (~3.3 Ga), visible further east, but the younger flow is distinctive because it has higher iron oxide (FeO) and titanium oxide (TiO2) abundances.

Regional enhanced-color of the landing area. The landing site is in a dark area spanning the width of the image and about 60 km north-south, surrounded by reddish terrain. Chaffee and Chaffee F craters are labeled at the far north of the image, and Chaffee S is a younger crater with steep, white-colored walls in the northwest corner.
Regional context of the Chang'e 6 landing site. Image is Wide Angle Camera Empirical Color Mosaic (red, green, blue = 689, 415, 321 nanometer bands) stretched to enhance subtle color differences.  The dark area spanning the center of the image is a basaltic mare deposit; bluer areas of the mare are higher-Ti flows, redder areas are lower-Ti. Contour lines marking 100-meter elevation intervals are overlaid to provide a sense of the topography. The map is 190 kilometers across, north is up. [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University]

Explore the entire post-landing NAC image below:


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Published by Robert Wagner on 14 June 2024