China's Xinhua Finally Confirms Yutu is Awake

China's Xinhua Finally Confirms Yutu is Awake

China’s official news agency, Xinhua, finally confirmed that the Yutu lunar rover has awakened from its 14-day long dormancy, though the health of the rover remains a little unclear.

China revealed on January 25 that Yutu suffered a “mechanical abnormality” as it entered the lunar night.   China itself provided few details about the problem, but western sources speculated that the rover’s mast (with its camera and antenna) and one of the two solar panels had not stowed themselves properly to protect the interior of the rover during the cold of the lunar night.

Sunlight returned to Yutu’s landing site over the weekend and planetary scientists were eagerly awaiting word on whether Yutu survived.  Conflicting stories were posted on various websites today, but the first hard news came late this afternoon Eastern Standard Time (EST) via tweets from @UHF_Satcom that signals were detected from the rover. 

Xinhua finally confirmed that Yutu is alive, quoting Pei Zhaoyu of the lunar probe program as saying “Yutu has come back to life.”   The Xinhua article goes on, however, to paint a picture of uncertainty about the rover’s future. Quoting Pei again, it reports “The rover stands a chance of being saved now that it is still alive.”  That suggests there is also a chance that it might not be able to be saved.

The rover was designed to survive three day/night cycles (each day and each night is 14 Earth days long); this was the second.  Little has been said about the stationary Chang’e-3 lander that delivered Yutu to the lunar surface and has its own scientific instruments.  Chang’e-3 and Yutu landed on December 14, 2013.  They are China’s first spacecraft to make a survivable landing on the Moon.  Chang’e is the name of China’s mythological goddess of the Moon.  Yutu is her companion Jade Rabbit.

China’s Yutu rover on the lunar surface as seen from a camera on the Chang’e-3 lander.  Photo credit:  tweet from @XHNews, December 22, 2013.

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