China made history in 2018 when it landed the Chang’e 4 mission on the lunar surface. The lander deployed a plucky little rover known as Yutu-2, which is still trundling around the far side of the moon—a first for humanity. Late last year, the rover spotted something unusual in the distance: a small square object dubbed the “mystery hut.” The rover approached to get a closer look, and sure enough, it’s a rock. It has a better name now, though. Say hello to the Jade Rabbit.
The bizarre object appeared on a photo from Yutu-2 in November 2021. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) said it would spend the next several lunar days getting closer to the object to take a closer look. So why are we only hearing about this now? A lunar day is 29.5 earth days, so the reveal is right on time.
Yutu-2 has now traveled just over a thousand meters (3,280 feet). From its vantage a few hundred meters away in November, the mystery hut looked like a small, squat building with a flat roof. The dark spot in the middle gave it the look of a shelter of some sort. Of course, finding something that looked even the least bit artificial on the far side of the moon would have been an enormous, science-fiction-level deal. It’s like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Sadly ( or perhaps luckily) there’s no alien monolith within the visual range of Yutu-2. After getting up close to the “hut,” it turned out to be just another rock that would be priceless on Earth but is just more background on the moon. The geometric look was thanks to a combination of location, angle, and shadows. However, the rover operators noted that the rock looked a bit like a rabbit, and thus Jade Rabbit was born.
This just goes to show you how little we know about the surface of celestial objects. NASA regularly spots strange formations on the surface of Mars, but when a rover gets close, we invariably find it’s just another weird rock. Who can forget the alleged “face” on Mars, confirmed to be a simple trick of the light when better imaging technology was used. Those rocks can still have major scientific importance despite their natural origins, but it’s still a bit disappointing. The universe would be a more interesting place if there was a tiny hut up there. Alas, we’ll have to make do with the first-ever robotic explorer doing science on the far side of the moon, and that ain’t bad.