Robotic telescope put on the Moon by China two years ago is still operational

According to Chinese researchers, their small robotic telescope, which is the first of its kind, has been operating flawlessly ever since it landed on the Moon in 2013. It sounds quite exciting as the telescope is able to observe all kinds of things that are not possible to see through Earth’s big, thick atmosphere.

Speaking to New Scientist, Jing Wang from the National Astronomical Observatories in Beijing, who is in charge of the telescope said “There is no atmosphere on the Moon, so unlike Earth, the ultraviolet light from celestial objects can be detected on the Moon.”

The Moon also rotates roughly 27 times slower than Earth to be precise, which means that the telescope can view at the same star for days at a time without interruption, that is something not possible on Earth.

Mounted on the Chang’e 3 lander, the 15-centimetre telescope that touched down on the lunar surface in December 2013 is built only to detect ultra-violet light. However, Chang’e 3 that carried the Yutu rover also known as the Jade Rabbit, constantly struggled to survive the days-long lunar nights and stopped working in March this year.

In a paper published this week, Wang and his colleagues detail the first 18 months of the telescope’s operation, during which it has observed for 2000 hours and monitored 40 stars. The team even captured the pretty image of the Pinwheel Galaxy, which is 21 million light-years away.

This is not the first telescope that is being used on the Moon. Astronauts on the Apollo 16 mission had a manually operated UV telescope, which they used to take pictures of Earth, stars and the Large Magellanic Cloud. But the Chinese telescope is the first to be operated remotely from Earth. The fact that it’s a robotic device makes it a lot more challenging to keep it operational.

In fact, the Chinese team in charge of the telescope actually expected it to last just one year of operation on the moon, which is why it’s such a surprise that it’s been going strong for almost two years now.

The device is stored safely inside the Chang’e 3 lander during sunrise and sunset, which is believed to be the harshest time of day, in order to survive the hostile lunar dust, which can destroy electronics.

The team is now thinking whether they need to keep the telescope mission running past the end of 2015, reports Jacob Aron from New Scientist.

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