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Over the millions of years in which the Moon has orbited around the Earth, the gravitational interactions between the two bodies have subtly altered their orbits and the speed at which they rotate. As this NASA animation shows right , this means that the same portion of the Moon always faces towards the Earth, and we can never see the far side. These effects result in the Moon being viewed from slightly different angles, and more of the surface being viewed over time.

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This mission captured much higher resolution images, revealing large chains of craters and a hemisphere that looked very different than the near side of the Moon. The US Lunar Orbiter programme then undertook the first detailed mapping of the far side of the Moon, but it was not until that the far side was first seen directly by human eyes, on the Apollo 8 mission. Jim Lovell was one of the astronauts on board the Apollo 8, and recounts what it was like to experience this piece of history :.

As we continued to orbit, shards of sunlight started to illuminate the peaks of craters just 60 miles below. Finally the far side was bathed in sunlight and we stared in silence as the ancient far side craters slowly passed underneath. I was observing alive that part of the Moon that had been hidden from man for millions of years. This mission has collected samples to determine the age and composition of the surface at the bottom of the South Pole-Aitken Basin. The South Pole has been chosen as the best location as water ice is present, which is a critical resource for any long term human exploration.

To find out more, check out our blog: Why go back to the Moon? The first image of the far side of the Moon showed some surprising differences when compared with the face that we normally see.


Instead it is much more densely covered with craters compared to the near side. But why should the near side of the Moon have more volcanic activity and lava flows than the far side? One of the commonly accepted theories is that in the early history of our Solar System, a young dwarf planet collided with the Moon.

This debris would go on to form a large part of the crust, and could theoretically still be detected today.

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Another theory also involves the far side of the Moon having a thicker crust. While the Earth and Moon were forming, heat from the still-molten Earth slowed the cooling process of the near side of the Moon. The far side could solidify faster, forming a thicker crust. This resulted in meteoroid impacts on the near side sometimes punching through the thinner surface to the still molten mantle, releasing lava to the surface to create the maria.

Moon’s near side is its dark side

Alternatively if the same meteoroid was to impact on the far side of the Moon, the thicker crust would not be punctured, so more valleys, craters and highlands are created, but no maria. Another reason to explore the far side of the Moon is for radio astronomy. One of the largest limitations for our current radio telescopes is the background noise from our global radio communications signals.

One way to combat both of these challenges is to build a radio telescope on the far side of the Moon. The Moon would shield the telescopes from Earth-related signals and there is no atmosphere to absorb radiation. By being able to detect these low-frequency radio waves, astronomers would be able to collect light from the very creation of the universe, from the first trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.

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