In 1969, the Apollo 10 astronauts heard something unusual on the far side of the Moon. Apollo 10 lost contact with the mission control and started receiving a mysterious radio signal. This signal could not be from the Earth because Apollo was on the far side of the Moon, and no one on the planet could see or contact anything present on the other side. Nevertheless, the astronauts heard the spooky sounds for about an hour until they emerged to the side of the Moon facing the Earth.

However, the astronauts did not report this to the mission control because they were scared and thought they would be grounded on mental health issues. As a result, people believed that the mission went according to the plan for more than four decades. There was nothing weird about it. Then, finally, the incident came to light when the recorded transcripts were declassified. Although many theories have been put forward to explain this unknown radio interference, the source of these noises still remains a mystery. However, this instance posed some crucial questions, with the most important of them being “what’s there on the far side of the Moon?”. Here’s an answer to it.

Why does the far side always remain hidden from us?

Ever since we’ve been observing the Moon, we’ve always only been looking at one side because it is tidally locked to the Earth, meaning that it rotates on its own axis with the same period that it orbits the Earth, leaving one side of the Moon always facing away from us. Nonetheless, not the whole far side of the Moon is all that mysterious to us for due to a phenomenon called “wobble” or vibrations (when the Moon slightly shifts on its axis), depending on the phase of the Moon, it may reveal up to 18% of its far side to us, human observers on the surface of the Earth.

Is far side of the Moon really dark?

Sometimes called the dark side of the Moon, scientists have long been peering at this intriguing face of the Moon that isn’t exposed to us. However, its common nickname is misleading because the “dark” side of the Moon is not actually dark. It is simply unseen and seldomly explored by us. It is not always facing away from the Sun and drowned in darkness. In fact, the Moon has its days and night just like the Earth, and therefore both the far and the near sides receive an equal amount of sunlight.

The Far Side of the Moon
The far side of the Moon captured during the Apollo 16 mission.

How the far side differs from the Moon we know?

There is a difference between what we find on the near and the far side of the Moon. Typically, on the far side of the Moon, you would encounter a much rougher surface with more pronounced or deeper craters and much less Maria, which are the large and dark patches that you can see on the Moon’s surface and are speculated to be remainders of what were vast magma oceans which followed violent eruptions.

Ever Wondered What Lies On The Far Side of the Moon? Have a Look! 2
The two sides of the Moon (Image: NASA)

The reason for the difference in asperities and appearance between both sides was thought to be due to the Earth acting as a shield for meteor showers, allowing less of them to reach the nearside of the Moon. However, this theory has now been disproved. Instead, the explanation behind the different-looking faces is the consistency of the crust being colder and thicker on the far side. Therefore, the thinner crust on the near side has allowed many more magma eruptions to occur, causing the lava to fill some of the larger craters and smoothen the surface to create the aforementioned darker Maria.

The observations of the Moon’s far side

Not much was known until the Soviet Space Probe Luna 3, the third probe of the USSR to be sent to the Moon, sent the first photograph of the far side of the Moon in 1959. Soviet scientists then used these images to produce the first-ever map of the Moon’s far side. In 1968, humans again had the chance to experience the far side of the Moon when Apollo 8 orbited the Moon before returning to Earth.

Landings on the far side of the Moon

Since the Moon blocks radio communications from Earth, so up until 2019, we had seen and thoroughly studied the far side of the Moon but had never landed on it. All previous missions to the Moon had landed on the near side to avoid communication issues. However, the Chinese Space Administration found a way around this problem by launching a relay satellite Queqiao which orbited the Earth.

On Jan. 3, 2019, the Chang’e 4 Probe of the Chinese Space Administration landed its Yutu 2 lunar rover on the far side of the Moon, more specifically in the Von Kármán crater, to study the soil composition and temperatures, unexpectedly discovering that it’s actually much colder than expected, a phenomenon which they attempted to explain through soil composition.

Thanks to the abilities of the Chinese satellite Queqiao, we now have technically solved the communications and can peer into the numerous interesting insights that the far side of the Moon might hold for the future of space exploration.

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Ever Wondered What Lies On The Far Side of the Moon? Have a Look! 3
China’s Yutu 2 rover on the far side of the Moon. This image was released by Chinese space officials Friday, Jan. 11. Credit: CNSA/CLEP

Why is the far side of the Moon important for us?

The far side of the Moon holds a plethora of secrets hidden beneath it. It offers a prime location for radio telescopes to avoid any interference from Earth. This can help humanity decode even those weak radio signals from deep space that otherwise get lost from Earth’s radio interference.

Still, one of its more interesting applications is to use it as a launch base for missions going beyond the Moon as its escape velocity is considerably lower than that of the Earth because its mass to radius ratio is smaller. In other words, although the far side of the Moon remains quite similar to the face we all know, its orientation holds many opportunities for expanding our capacities in space exploration.

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