China just announced that its beloved Moon rover Yutu – better known as Jade Rabbit – has ceased operations on the lunar surface.
Despite the sad news, Jade Rabbit’s story will likely go down in history as one of the most successful lunar missions ever conducted, and one that captured the hearts of an entire nation through its social media account.
"This time it really is goodnight," Jade Rabbit’s official Sina Weibo account told followers on Sunday. "There are still many questions I would like answers to, but I'm the rabbit that has seen the most stars! The Moon says it has prepared a long, long dream for me."
Jade Rabbit was sent to the Moon aboard China's Chang’e-3 lander, touching down in December 2013.
Originally, the team had hoped the rover could operate for a mere three months on lunar surface, but – somehow – it was able to keep working for a whopping 31 months, even after experiencing a handful of technical issues and failures.
The biggest of these scares happened back in February 2014, when the rover was thought to be dead after it stopped communicating during a lunar night - a process that lasts the equivalent of two Earth weeks.
But somehow it managed to come online again, claiming the title of longest operating lunar rover in October 2015, reports Jacob Aron for New Scientist.
Part of the rover’s survival is due to the fact that it operates sort of like Wall-E did in the 2008 Pixar film, by heading inside the Chang’e-3 lander every evening and sheltering itself from the harsh lunar night.
One of the most interesting things about the rover mission – besides the behaviour of the rover itself – is that China's space agency also managed to sneak a robotic telescope on the lander alongside Jade Rabbit – something the world didn’t even know about until 2015.
"Chinese researchers have reported that a small, robotic telescope they landed on the Moon back in 2013 has been working flawlessly this whole time. And although this is the first many of us are hearing about the device, it's pretty exciting news, because the telescope's been able to observe all kinds of things that aren't possible to see through Earth's big, thick atmosphere."
Right now, there is no official word on what caused Jade Rabbit to finally retire its operations, though – based on its previous issues – it was likely due to technical failure.
The good news is that China hopes to launch another lunar probe called Chang’e-4 in 2018. This time, they aim to explore the far side of the Moon. Whether or not the spacecraft will be carrying a replacement for Jade Rabbit is still unknown.