Rejoice! China's presumed-dead lunar rover, Jade Rabbit or Yutu, is alive and could possibly return to full function.
Chinese media issued a short announcement yesterday, saying that communication had been lost with the rover and that it had been damaged beyond repair. But now scientists have made contact with the probe, and think there's a chance it could start working again. According to Chinese lunar program spokesman Pei Zhaoyu, Yutu seems to have survived the brutally cold, two-week long lunar night:
Jade Rabbit has fully resurrected and is able to receive signals, but still suffers a mechanical control abnormality. The rover entered hibernation while in an abnormal state. We were worried it wouldn't be able to make it through the extreme cold of the lunar night. But it came back alive. The rover stands a chance of being saved as it is still alive.
Agence France-Presse reports that Chinese social media users are very excited to have the lunar rover back :
An unverified Weibo user "Jade Rabbit Lunar Rover", which has posted first-person accounts in the voice of the probe, on Thursday made its first update since January. "Hi, anybody there?" it said, prompting thousands of comments within minutes. "I have missed you rabbit! Glad you are back!" said one poster, with another adding: "Yutu - you have finally woken. This is great!"
Space expert Morris Jones told AFP that a solar panel on the rover, used to gather energy and maintain power, did not close correctly: "This allowed heat to escape from the rover in the cold lunar night. The cold has probably damaged some parts of the rover permanently, but it seems that some parts are still working." Chinese scientists said they are investigating the cause of the malfunction.
The rover, carried to the moon by Chinese Chang'e 3 spacecraft, achieved the first lunar soft-landing in over three decades. It's success is a point of pride for China, which has been stepping up its space ambitions and hopes to send a manned mission to the moon within the coming decade.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.