China's Chang'e moon probe: We finally know exactly where the spacecraft landed

The craft landed on the far side of our natural satellite months ago. Until now, we didn't know exactly where.

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Eric Mack
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Detail from panoramic image of the far side of the moon by China's Chang'e 4 lander


China's Chang'e 4 spacecraft did in January what neither Israel's Beresheet nor India's Chandrayaan 2 could manage later in the year by landing softly on the moon in one piece. Most impressive, though, is the fact that the lander was the first craft to ever to touch down on the far side of the moon. Exactly where hasn't been known -- until now.

A quick lunar refresher: The moon is tidally locked to Earth, which means it doesn't rotate on its axis like our world does, and therefore the same side of the satellite is always facing our planet. Chang'e 4 landed on the far side that is always facing away from us. 

Landing on what Pink Floyd called (not totally accurately) the "dark side of the moon" had to be done without any Earth-based tracking or telemetry, which meant that Chang'e 4 basically had to land on autopilot

Watch this: China's voyage to the far side of the moon

The lander and the Yutu-2 rover that it let loose on the moon have since sent back images and even found a mysterious substance on the far side, but pinpointing exactly where Chang'e 4 landed in absolute terms has only now been achieved. 

Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences published a paper in Nature Communications on Tuesday that reconstructs the lander's descent to the lunar surface using images from the camera and rover. If you're planning to visit, you'll find Chang'e 4 at 177.5991°E, 45.4446°S. Look for the spaceship on the gentle slope of an ancient crater named Von Karman.

"As a permanent artificial landmark on the lunar far side, the location ... can serve as a potential control point on the far side," the paper reads.

The researchers hope they've calculated a new waypoint that will help current and future explorers -- robotic or human -- to find their way. 

The work could also prove useful in future autonomous landings around the solar system so that fewer craft go the way of Beresheet or Chandrayaan 2. RIP.

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Originally published 8:17 a.m. PT