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NASA spacecraft reveals travels of China's Yutu 2 rover on far side of the moon

The Chang'e 4 lander (right) and Yutu 2 (left) spotted by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in October 2020. (Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

China's Yutu 2 rover just turned two years old, and NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has kept a sharp eye on its movements during its mission on the far side of the moon.

While China's Chang'e 5 sample-return mission has been basking in the lunar limelight, the Chang'e 4 mission was also back in action. Chang'e 4 launched to the moon in May 2018 and deployed the Yutu 2 rover to the lunar surface on Jan. 3, 2019. The sun rose over Von Kármán crater on Dec. 7, meaning the solar-powered lander and Yutu 2 rover were active on Dec. 9. 

The China Lunar Exploration Program stated the spacecraft had completed their lunar day's work on Dec. 22. Yutu 2 covered 35.9 feet. (10.95 meters) during lunar day 25, meaning a total drive distance of 1,970 feet (600.55 m) during its time on the far side of the moon.

Related: China unveils ambitious moon mission plans for 2024 and beyond 

Meanwhile the team behind the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) at the School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University, have combined a number of images to show the two-year-old rover's journey.

The set of images taken by the LROC start from just before the historic January 2019 Chang'e 4 landing and lead up to recent lunar days. 

The images from orbit show Yutu 2's progress across the crater-pocked floor of Von Kármán crater. 

Related: Yutu 2 snaps stunning new panoramas from the moon's far side

Animated image showing the progress of the Chang'e 4 lunar farside mission.  (Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

Yutu 2 has been heading to the northwest of its lander companion but faces a landscape strewn with craters which could trap the roughly 309-lb. (140 kilograms) Yutu 2. 

LRO also spotted the Chang'e 5 lander just a day after its historic touchdown in Oceanus Procellarum. 

An image of Von Kármán crater taken by Yutu 2's PCAM in November 2020. (Image credit: CNSA/CLEP)

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Andrew Jones covers China's space industry for SpaceNews. He is based in Helsinki, Finland.

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