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China's moon-sampling Chang'e 5 probe beams home eerie images from deep space

The Earth and moon viewed by Chang'e 5 from Sun-Earth Lagrange point 1.
The Earth and moon viewed by Chang'e 5 from Sun-Earth Lagrange point 1. (Image credit: CNSA/CLEP)

China's Chang'e 5 spacecraft completed a historic delivery of moon rocks to Earth late last year, but the mission is still continuing with experiments in deep space.

In December, the Chang'e 5 orbiter delivered a return capsule to Earth packed with about 4.4 lbs. (2 kilograms) of lunar material — the first such delivery in decades., 

Related: The latest news about China's space program

After the delivery, the orbiter module fired its engines to head for a point in space known as Sun-Earth Lagrange point 1, which is about 932,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from Earth in the direction of the sun. From orbit around this gravitationally balanced area, the spacecraft has returned a unique image of the Earth and moon together.

Chang'e 5 is now carrying out a range of tests related to orbit control and Earth and solar observations which would help inform future missions.

A view of the Sun from Chang'e 5 at Sun-Earth Lagrange point 1.  (Image credit: CNSA/CLEP)

The current Chang'e 5 operations are bonus work for an already hugely successful mission, so its imagers are not optimized for detailed observations from deep space. 

Meanwhile NASA's DSCOVR deep-space observatory has been working in this same region of space since 2015, taking advantage of unhindered views of our planet to study the Earth's climate.

(Image credit: CNSA/CLEP)

Chinese scientists have said that Chang'e 5 may head to new targets after completing its tests at Sun-Earth Lagrange point 1.

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