After weeks of anticipation, China’s Yutu 2 rover has finally reached an intriguing object that appeared on the lunar horizon last December, revealing it to be nothing more than an irregularly shaped rock.
Space exploration is fun because it lets our imaginations run wild. When weird and inexplicable things suddenly appear—like a looming shape the far side of the Moon—we can’t help but hope it’s a previously unknown celestial phenomenon or the discarded remnant of an alien spaceship. Meanwhile, the rational parts of our brain remind us of Occam’s razor, the dictum that implores us to seek out the simplest explanation.
In the case of the so-called “mystery hut,” we always knew it was a rock, and I said as much back in early December. But we wanted iron-clad proof, and now we have it, as Our Space, a Chinese-language science outreach channel affiliated with China National Space Administration, reports.
China’s Yutu 2 rover was exploring Von Kármán crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin when it spotted the “obtrusive cube,” as Our Space described it. Mission controllers decided to take a closer look, sending the rover on a 328-foot (100-meter) journey toward the northern horizon.
The diminutive six-wheeled rover neared the object in a series of carefully orchestrated jaunts, the longest of which covered nearly 40 feet (12 meters). And in fact, the longest of these stints resulted in Yutu 2 breaking its own single-excursion distance record. After passing a pair of impact craters, and having driven a total of 196 feet (60 meters), the rover had to be placed in hibernation mode to survive the frigid lunar night.
When Yutu 2 awoke on the morning of the mission’s 38th lunar day—December 27 on Earth—it still had 98 feet (30 meters) to go, requiring another three drive sessions. This week, Yutu 2 finally came within 33 feet (10 meters) of the object, prompting mission controllers to take a panoramic view of the scene.
This subsequently revealed the object’s true identity: a rock. As Our Space reports, the team “couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed,” but one member exclaimed: “My God! This is Yutu!”
Yutu means “jade rabbit,” and the rock does kinda look like a crouched rabbit, with its large ears at top right and face looking down onto the lunar surface. It’s another good example of pareidolia.
As of January 6, Yutu 2 has clocked a full kilometer (0.6 miles) of distance traveled since landing on the far side of the Moon on January 3, 2019 as part of the Chang’e 4 mission. On January 11, the rover will celebrate three years of exploring the lunar surface. Our Space says Yutu 2 will soon enter into hibernation mode again, after which it will continue to explore the rock and the impact crater immediately behind it.