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Rover solves ‘mystery hut’ lunar puzzle

Panoramic color pictures from Yutu 2 show object is a rabbit-shaped rock

Yutu 2, the lander and rover of the Chang'e 4 probe, captured an obscure but intriguing image about 80 meters from its location during the mission's 36th lunar day, according to Our Space, a Chinese science channel that published the machine's latest diary on Dec 3. (PHOTO / OUR SPACE)

China's Yutu 2 lunar rover has traveled more than a kilometer on the moon and is still working well, according to the China National Space Administration.

The administration said on Saturday that the distance traveled by the rover reached 1 km on Thursday evening. By late that night, the robot had moved about 1,004 meters on the lunar surface.

It added that Yutu 2, the second Chinese rover on the moon, has been in its 38th lunar-day working session since Dec 27 and "is in normal condition".

A lunar day equals 14 days on Earth, and a lunar night is the same length. During the lunar night, the temperature falls below -180 C, and there is no sunlight to provide power to the craft.

During the 38th working session, mission controllers uncovered the truth behind a "mystery hut" that was spotted by Yutu 2 in its 36th working session and appeared to be a gray cube looming on the silver sphere's horizon.

A picture of the object published by engineers at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in early December immediately attracted attention from the media and space fans around the world.

Chinese scientists were also intrigued by the object and told controllers to drive the rover toward it.

After overcoming several obstacles in its path, the robot approached the "hut" and used its panoramic camera to take color pictures of it.

Based on the pictures transmitted back to Earth, ground controllers found that the object is a rabbit-shaped rock. Nevertheless, they have decided to move the rover close to the object during its next lunar-day working session to further investigate the rock and a nearby crater, the space administration said.

By Sunday, Yutu 2 had been operating for 1,102 Earth days, cementing its status as the longest-working rover on the moon. The record was previously held by its predecessor-Yutu-which worked on the moon for 972 days, far outliving its designed life span of three months.

Yutu 2 is part of the ongoing Chang'e 4 robotic probe mission, humanity's first endeavor to land on and closely observe the far side of the moon. The mission was launched by a Long March 3B carrier rocket in December 2018 at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province.

The probe made a soft landing on the far side on Jan 3, 2019, and released Yutu 2 to roam and survey the landing site in the South Pole-Aitken Basin, the largest and deepest known basin in the solar system.

In late November, Chinese scientists at the State Key Laboratory of Space Weather, which is run by the Chinese Academy of Sciences' National Space Science Center, published a major scientific finding enabled by Yutu 2 in that month's issue of Nature Astronomy.

They said that they had found remnants of carbonaceous chondrites on the moon's far side in hyperspectral images in the visible and near-infrared range taken by the rover.

Carbonaceous chondrites are meteorites that originated in the asteroid belt near Jupiter and are believed to be among the oldest objects in the solar system. Their existence on the moon may still act as a source of water on its barren surface, according to the researchers, who were headed by Liu Yang.

zhaolei@chinadaily.com.cn