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China’s lunar probe snaps first panoramic pic of the far side of the Moon

The panoramic view of the far side of the Moon captured by the Chang'e 4 lander. (CLEP)
China’s Chang’e 4 lunar probe has captured a stunning panoramic picture of the far side of the Moon.

Several new pictures shown on state broadcaster CCTV revealed the Jade Rabbit 2 rover and the Chang'e 4 spacecraft that transported it to the Moon. China became the first country to successfully land a probe on the far side of the Moon when the Chang’e 4 lander reached the lunar surface on Jan. 2.

The Moon's far side is also known as the dark side because it faces away from Earth and remains comparatively unknown, with a different composition from sites on the near side, where previous missions have landed.

Among the images is a 360-degree panorama stitched together from 80 photos taken by a camera on the lander after it released the rover onto the lunar surface, China's state news agency Xinhua said, citing Li Chunlai, deputy director of the National Astronomical Observatories of China and commander-in-chief of the ground application system of Chang'e 4.

The rover’s tracks can be clearly seen in the remarkable image. “From the panorama, we can see the probe is surrounded by lots of small craters, which was really thrilling," Li was quoted as saying.

Researchers have already completed a preliminary analysis of the lunar surface topography around the landing site based on the image, according to a statement released by China’s Lunar and Deep Space Exploration (CLEP).

The space administration also released a 12-minute video of Chang'e 4's landing utilizing more than 4,700 images taken by an onboard camera. The probe is shown adjusting its altitude, speed and pitch as it seeks to avoid obstacles on the ground.

The mission demonstrates China’s growing ambitions as a space power to rival Russia, the European Union and the U.S.

In 2013, China became just the third country, after the U.S. and the then-Soviet Union, to successfully “soft land” on the Moon when its Chang'e 3 lander reached the lunar surface.

The U.S. is the only country to place astronauts on the Moon, having last done so in December 1972 during the Apollo 17 mission. Only 12 men, all Americans, have set foot on the Moon.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 Moon landing and lunar missions continue to be a source of fascination for all segments of the population.

A checklist that traveled to the surface of the Moon with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin recently sold at auction in New York for $62,500. In the same auction, three tiny Moon rocks brought back from space by the unmanned Soviet Luna-16 mission were sold for $855,000.

Dec. 21, 2018 also marked the 50th anniversary of the momentous Apollo 8 launch. During a series of historic lunar orbits NASA astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders became the first humans to see the far side of the Moon.