China says it has successfully landed a craft carrying a robotic rover on the surface of the Moon, a major step in its programme of space exploration.
On Saturday afternoon (GMT), a landing module underwent a powered descent, using thrusters to perform the first soft landing on the Moon in 37 years.
Several hours later, the lander will deploy a robotic rover called Yutu, which translates as “Jade Rabbit”.
The touchdown will took place on a flat plain called the Bay of Rainbows. The Chang’e-3 mission launched on a Chinese-developed Long March 3B rocket on 1 December from Xichang in the country’s south.
State television showed pictures of the moon’s surface as the Chang’e 3 lander touched down.
The task was described as the mission’s “most difficult” in the post, written by the Chinese Academy of Sciences on behalf of the space authorities.
It is the third robotic rover mission to land on the lunar surface, but the Chinese vehicle carries a more sophisticated payload, including ground-penetrating radar which will gather measurements of the lunar soil and crust.
The 120kg (260lb) Jade Rabbit rover can reportedly climb slopes of up to 30 degrees and travel at 200m (660ft) per hour.
Its name – chosen in an online poll of 3.4 million voters – derives from an ancient Chinese myth about a rabbit living on the moon as the pet of the lunar goddess Chang’e.