China's lunar probe Chang'e-4 to measure moon temperatures during freezing night

Temperatures vary enormously between day and night on the moon.
Temperatures vary enormously between day and night on the moon.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING (XINHUA) - The night on the moon is dark and cold, yet Chinese scientists do not know exactly how cold it can be.

The Chang'e-4 probe, which made the first-ever soft-landing on the far side of the moon, will help them measure the moon's temperatures.

A lunar day equals 14 days on Earth, and a lunar night is the same length. Temperatures vary enormously between day and night on the moon.

Scientists estimate that the highest temperature during the day might reach 127 deg C, while the lowest at night could fall to minus 183 deg C.

In 2013, China launched Chang'e-3, the country's first spacecraft to soft-land on the moon. The scientific instruments on its lander are still operating after more than 60 lunar nights in the past five years.

"It was a success, but Chang'e-3 was designed according to foreign temperature data," said Ms Zhang He, executive director of the Chang'e-4 probe project, from the China Academy of Space Technology.

"Without our own data about lunar temperatures, we don't know how cold a lunar night can actually be," Ms Zhang said.

 
 
 
 

"Chang'e-4 will measure the temperature differences between the day and night on the moon, helping scientists estimate the properties of the lunar soil," she said.

Consultant Tan Mei from the China Academy of Space Technology said that Chang'e-4 will switch to a "sleep mode" during the lunar night due to the lack of solar power, and rely on the radioisotope heat source, a collaboration between Chinese and Russian scientists, to keep warm. "We need to transform heat into power to run the thermometry to measure the temperatures of the lunar surface at night."

The lander is equipped with dozens of temperature data collectors, and the data they collect at night will be transmitted after the probe is wakened during the moon's daytime, said designer Li Fei from the China Academy of Space Technology.

The chief designer of the Chang'e-4 probe, Mr Sun Zezhou, who is from the China Academy of Space Technology, said the probe will get first-hand data by directly measuring the temperatures of the lunar soil, probe's surface, and its key interior equipment during the lunar night.

Used for the first time in a Chinese spacecraft, the isotope thermoelectric generation technology on Chang'e-4 is a prototype for future deep-space explorations, Mr Sun said.

Nasa's Curiosity rover also adopts this power technology, freeing it from the sunshine, sand and dust restrictions that have bothered its predecessors Opportunity and Spirit, he explained.

"It is a technology that we must master if we want to go to the moon's polar regions or deep space farther than Jupiter, where solar power cannot be used as the primary power source," he said.