The Chang'e 3 lander touched down in Mare Imbrium at 13:11 UT on 14 December. Credit: REX


China has made the first soft-landing on the Moon in almost 40 years.

At 13:11 UT on 14 December, the Chang'e 3 probe touched down on the lunar surface.

Shortly afterwards the Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, rover separated from the Chang'e lander and rolled out onto the surface.

This was the first controlled landing on the Moon since the Soviet Luna 24 mission in 1976, though China, India and the US have sent impact probes since.

Chang'e 3 entered into orbit around our nearest neighbour on 6 December.

When it reached the optimal position eight days later it fired thrusters to slowly descend to the landing site in Mare Imbrium, a large crater on the lunar near side.

Mission scientists checked that the lander was operating correctly and readied its systems for the mission ahead.

Eight hours after landing, Chang'e extended its landing ramps and the Yutu rover was lowered onto the surface.

On leaving the lander the rover travelled 9m away before beaming back its first glimpse of the Moon.

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Over the next three months the mission aims to investigate an area of 3 square km, using robotic arms to take soil samples that can then be analysed by the on-board spectrometer.

It will be the first lunar explorer to use radar to directly investigate the depth and structure of the Moon's crust.

Meanwhile, the Chang'e lander will use ultraviolet cameras to study both Earth and deep space for the next year.

The mission is one stage of China's long-term plan to explore the Moon that started with the lunar orbiters, Chang'e 1 and 2.

The three-dimensional maps of the surface made by these probes were used to pick the landing site for Chang'e 3.


Building on the success of this mission, China is planning a sample return mission for launch in 2018, and the nation aims to put a man on the Moon by 2030, cementing its place as one of the world's major space explorers.


Ezzy Pearson is the News Editor of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. Her first book about the history of robotic planetary landers is out now from The History Press.