China’s space authorities called it the
“mystery hut.” Others called it the “moon cube.” Yutu-2 was sent for a closer
look, and at the leisurely speed the rover is capable of traveling, it took
weeks to get up close.
On Friday, Our Space, a Chinese language
science channel affiliated with China National Space Administration, posted an
update. There is no monolith, no secret base on the rim of a lunar crater.
Close up, it turns out to be just a rock. The seemingly perfect geometric shape
was just a trick of angle, light and shadow.
The report was noted earlier on Twitter by
Andrew Jones, a journalist who follows the Chinese space program.
Although the mystery hut was not a hut at all,
one of the rover’s remote drivers on Earth pointed out that the rock sort of
resembled a rabbit and one of the stones in front of it looked a bit like a
carrot. That’s fitting as the rover’s name means “Jade Rabbit.”
The rover has now driven just over 1,000
meters since it arrived three years ago on the moon’s far side, in Von Kármán
crater, as part of the Chang’e-4 mission. It is the first mission to land on
the far side.
Visual illusions are common in the history of
space exploration, whether seen by astronomers peering through telescopes on
Earth or robotic explorers on other worlds capturing images with cameras. In a
parallel with the rabbitlike rock found by China’s rover, a NASA rover on Mars,
Opportunity, spotted something that looked like bunny ears in 2004. Further
analysis by engineers on Earth suggested it was insulation or other soft
material that fell off the rover itself.
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