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NASA moon orbiter spots Chang'e 4 lander in a crater

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter tracks down China's moon lander and snaps a picture.

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Chang'e 4 is pointed to by small white arrows near the lower right-hand side of this LRO image.

NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

You'll need to squint to spot it, but NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter managed to capture a look at the Chinese National Space Agency's (CNSA) Chang'e 4 lander hanging out on the far side of the moon. 

Chang'e 4 touched down on Jan. 3 in the Von Kármán crater. LRO took the image on Jan. 30. 

"As LRO approached the crater from the east, it rolled 70° to the west to snap this spectacular view looking across the floor towards the west wall," writes Mark Robinson for Arizona State University's LRO Camera site.

The lander, which is about the size of a car, appears as a tiny bright spot. Chang'e 4 released its Jade Rabbit 2 lunar rover in early January, but the small machine is not visible in the LRO image.

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Here's a closer look at the bright spot that is the Chang'e 4 lander. 

NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

NASA announced in mid-January it had discussed observing Chang'e 4's landing plume with CNSA in order to learn more about how dust is kicked up during a spacecraft landing. 

China's lander is the first spacecraft to land on the far side of the moon, sometimes called the dark side even though it gets plenty of sunlight. The lander and rover are both powered by solar panels. 

Chang'e 4 is on a mission to learn more about this mysterious region of the moon. It also hosted a short-lived attempt to sprout plants within a container

China already has its eyes set on another moon mission in 2019, but this time it plans to bring back lunar samples. If successful, those lunar bits will be the first brought back to Earth in decades.

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