Bad Astronomy

Cool videos from a Chinese Moon probe

Over at the Planetary Society Blog, Emily Lakdawalla has posted some videos taken by Chang’E 2, a Chinese space probe that just entered lunar orbit in October. The engineering cameras were pointed in such a way that technicians on Earth could make sure things were working properly on board, but the videos give an added bonus: the beauty and surreal nature of a man-made object orbiting another world.

Here’s my favorite of the five:

You can see the engine nozzle there, and the Moon in the background. After the probe inserted itself into lunar orbit, it had to adjust the orbital shape and height (this is called trimming the orbit). It goes through a series of turns, then begins to fire the thrusters. You won’t see flames shooting out; the fuel it uses burns invisibly. But when the probe enters the Moon’s shadow (what some folks call the dark side of the Moon, a bit of a misnomer) you can see parts of the nozzle glowing with the heat of the fuel burning.

Very cool. I’m glad to see other countries exploring our nearest neighbor. The more people we have looking around, the more we learn about it. And all of us are potential partners in space, something I like seeing very, very much.