Jade Rabbit, the beloved Chinese moon rover, is alive after all!
There is sign of life on the moon as Jade Rabbit, the Chinese moon rover that has been quiet since late January, sent out a faint signal overnight. This gave reason for over one billion Chinese to cheer while celebrating the traditional Lantern Festival, which occurs on the 15th day of Lunar New Year.
Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, is named after the rabbit that accompanied the Lady Chang'e on the moon after she escaped from her tyrant husband, according to legend. The moon rover flew to the moon with China's first moon lander, Chang'e 3, on December 2, 2013. It has been quiet since late January, and was even suspected of having frozen to death.
On Jan. 25th, Yutu sent an ominous message, saying, "Goodnight, Earth. Goodnight, humanity." It happened just before it entered a hibernation period when the moon entered its lunar night, which lasts 14 Earth days and can plunge to minus 180 Celsius (or minus 292 Fahrenheit) in temperature. To make it through the cold, the lunar rover "hibernates" to preserve its delicate electronics, but there is a risk of mechanical problems. If the hibernation is not handled properly, then Jade Rabbit could freeze to death.
Then it was all silence for many days, and even the Chinese engineers were suspecting trouble. On social media, thousands of Chinese internet users sent well-wishes to the little robot who has over 300,000 followers on Weibo, China's Twitter-like social media service.
On Feb. 10th, Jade Rabbit did not wake up as scheduled. NASA issued a message in Chinese of condolence on its Weibo account: "Jade Rabbit is meant to be on the moon. It is home now." The message became viral among Chinese internet users.
Jade Rabbit may have disagreed with NASA's condolence message and decided to wake up after all. On Feb. 13th, the Chinese lunar program announced that, "Yutu has fully resurrected and is able to receive signals, but still suffers a mechanical control abnormality." An amateur website dedicated to monitoring radio signals from space also reported on its Twitter account that it had detected "pretty good signals" from Jade Rabbit.
The successful reawakening has delighted the Chinese people and Jade Rabbit's fans everywhere, especially for its auspicious timing just in time to celebrate the Chinese Lantern Festival, which is the 15th day after Lunar New Year and occurs on Feb. 14th this year.
Happy Lanterns Festival Day!