Chang'e-4 on the surface of the Moon. Photo: Xinhua/CNSA via Getty Images

A team of scientists has reconstructed the exact descent and landing of the Chinese lunar lander Chang’e-4 on the far side of the Moon, a new study in Nature Communications shows.

Why it matters: Chang’e-4’s January landing could act as a blueprint for more distant autonomous landings on other objects like asteroids in the future.

  • China's space agency should now have "a lot of confidence in the system that they've produced," which could embolden the agency to take it elsewhere in the solar system, geologist Clive Neal told Axios.

Details: The study’s authors pieced together photos taken by the lander during descent and by the Yutu-2 rover after landing in the Von Kármán crater to get a detailed look at how the landing succeeded.

  • Photos — beamed back to Earth by the Queqiao satellite — revealed that the lander touched down on the slope of a crater and was actually “surrounded by 5 craters,” according to the study.
  • The team traced the exact landing location to 177.5991°E, 45.4446°S at an elevation of -5,935 meters.

The big picture: Landing on the Moon is no easy feat, as multiple recent missions have shown.

  • Both Israel’s Beresheet and India’s Chandrayaan-2 landers failed during their descents to the lunar surface this year.
  • “Chang'e-4 is a great reminder that we can succeed with ambitious and scientifically important space missions using increasingly autonomous systems,” Ella Atkins, director of the Autonomous Aerospace Systems Lab at the University of Michigan, told Axios via email.
  • So far, only China, the U.S. and the Soviet Union have successfully managed to land and operate spacecraft on the Moon.

Go deeper

42 mins ago - Podcasts

The fight over fracking

Fracking has become a flashpoint in the election's final week, particularly in Pennsylvania where both President Trump and Joe Biden made stops on Monday. But much of the political rhetoric has ignored that the industry has gone from boom to bust, beset by layoffs, bankruptcies and fire-sale mergers.

Axios Re:Cap digs into the state of fracking, and what it means for the future of American energy, with Bob McNally, president of Rapidan Energy Group.

Democrats sound alarm on mail-in votes

Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Democrats are calling a last-minute audible on mail-in voting after last night's Supreme Court ruling on Wisconsin.

Driving the news: Wisconsin Democrats and the Democratic secretary of state of Michigan are urging voters to return absentee ballots to election clerks’ offices or drop boxes. They are warning that the USPS may not be able to deliver ballots by the Election Day deadline.

Nxivm cult leader Keith Raniere sentenced to life in prison

Carts full of court documents related to the U.S. v. Keith Raniere case arrive at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in May 2019. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Nxivm cult leader Keith Raniere, 60, was sentenced to 120 years in prison on Tuesday in federal court for sex trafficking among other crimes, the New York Times reports.

Catch up quick: Raniere was convicted last summer with sex trafficking, conspiracy, sexual exploitation of a child, racketeering, forced labor and possession of child pornography. His so-called self-improvement workshops, which disguised rampant sexual abuse, were popular among Hollywood and business circles.