NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Spots China’s Chang’e-5 Lander on Lunar Surface

Box indicates Chang’e 5 lander on the basaltic plains of Oceanus Procellarum (“Ocean of Storms”) on 02 December 2020 09:54 EST (14:53:55 UTC). The lander is the bright spot in the center of the outline. The areas around the lander has been brightened due to the descent engine plume impingement on the surface (similar to what has been observed at other landing sites). Outline is 1210 meters wide; north is up. LROC NAC M1361560086R [Credits: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

China’s Chang’e-5 sample return spacecraft made a safe touchdown on the lunar surface at 10:11 EST (15:11 UTC) 01 December 2020. LRO passed over the site the following day and acquired an off-nadir (13° slew) image showing the lander centered within  a triangle of craters.

The LROC team computed the coordinates of the lander to be 43.0576° N, 308.0839°E, –2570 m elevation, with an estimated accuracy of plus-or-minus 20 meters.

LROC Wide Angle Camera context mosaic; Chang’e 5 landed in the center of the white box. The “channel” winding across the upper right (rille) was formed by an eruption of basaltic lava more than a billion years ago. The bright area to the south is a massif of older terrain protruding through the mare basalts. North is up, entire image is 61 kilometers wide [Credits: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

The local geology consists of a broad, flat mare basalt unit. Similar to flood basalts on the Earth, this deposit was the result of a massive outpouring of very fluid, basaltic lavas. In the lunar case, this massive eruption occurred somewhere between one and two billion years ago. Chang’e 5 is now in the process of returning a small sample of this volcanic unit to Earth so that scientists can precisely determine its age and its chemistry.