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It’s a first! Chinese probe lands on moon’s far side

Yutu 2 on lunar surface
An image captured from the Chang’e-4 lander shows the Yutu 2 rover rolling onto the terrain of the lunar far side. (CLEP via Weibo / Twitter)

Official Chinese media confirmed that the nation’s robotic Chang’e-4 probe made the first-ever landing on the far side of the moon — but not before issuing, and then withdrawing, an initial set of announcements.

The honest-to-goodness announcement came via several state-run media outlets just after noon Beijing time on Jan. 3 (8 p.m. PT Jan. 2).

That’s about an hour after the Twitter accounts for China’s CGTV network and the China Daily newspaper flashed word of a landing. Within a minute or two, those tweets were deleted, but the media echoes nevertheless continued through the Twitterverse, mailing lists and online reports.

Those outlets apparently jumped the gun on what was intended to be a coordinated release of the news. In its re-issued announcement, CGTV said the landing took place at 10:26 a.m. Beijing time (6:26 p.m. PT), which meshes with the timing for the initial tweeted-then-deleted reports.

Chang’e-4 is the latest in a series of probes named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology. The combination lander and rover was sent into space in early December, and followed a slow but efficient 4.5-day trajectory from Earth to the moon. The lander made a series of lunar orbits over the past couple of weeks to line it up for the landing.

Communications were facilitated by a relay satellite that was sent to a gravitational balance point about 33,000 miles beyond the moon last May.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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