It's not a house after all.
The "mystery hut," or "house," spotted by China's Yutu-2 rover on the far side of the moon turns out to be -- drumroll, please -- a rock. This isn't exactly a surprise, but it is an amusing conclusion to the lunar enigma that entranced so many in December.
Once again, Andrew Jones, a journalist who covers the Chinese space program for SpaceNews and Space.com, alerted me to the latest rover team update with a tweet on Friday, describing the conclusion to the saga as "so underwhelming it's brilliant."
It turns out the cube-shaped "hut" is a small lumpy rock sitting on a crater rim. It just happened to look much bigger and more mysterious in the rover's first image. After getting closer and getting some perspective, the rover was able to reveal the object's true nature.
But that's not all. It gets cuter. The rock's huddled shape has now earned it the nickname "jade rabbit" because it looks a bit like a bunny crouching down with a couple of carrots in front of it. There are some dainty round pieces behind the rock's "rump" that look like bunny poop, which just adds to the fun.
The Yutu-2 rover's name translates to Jade Rabbit, so it's like the rover found its own mascot on the moon.
Yutu-2 is part of the China National Space Administration's Chang'e-4 mission that landed in 2019 to undertake an ambitious exploration of the moon's far side (which isn't always dark). Yutu-2 works on solar power, so it periodically hibernates until the sun comes back out. That's why it took some time to move closer to the "mystery hut" for a better look.
This is hardly the first time that unusual-looking objects have been discovered in space. The "spoon" and "faces" on Mars have sparked curiosity too.
The ultimate outcome of this adventure may seem like a disappointment, especially if you were hoping for something truly wild, like an alien outpost or an ancient monolith, but I'm actually happy. I got a lot of joy out of the speculation surrounding the original image. I was 99.9% sure it was a boulder and that the only real mystery was its size and shape. That it turned out to resemble a bunny is sweet as can be.
Not to be lost in all this is the fact that the rover has been having quite a mission. It's the first to explore the moon's far side and it's still rolling along three years after landing. Next up, it will check out the area around the jade rabbit rock and it should be able to get some even better images. We'll see if it still looks like a bunny on closer scrutiny.