China has landed on the moon

A Chinese spacecraft has successfully touched down on the moon, state officials have announced.

The landing makes China one of only three nations - after the United States and the former Soviet Union - to soft-land on the moon, and the first to do so in more than three decades.

The Chinese lander touched down on an area of the moon called the Bay of Rainbows at 13.11 GMT, according to footage of mission control shown on Chinese state TV. The lander will release a robotic rover called Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, which will roam the Moon's surface for at least three months, collecting lunar soil and rock samples and taking images of the surface.

The Chang'e-3 mission is a significant expansion of China's moon exploration programme. It comes two weeks after its launch from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in Sichuan Province on 1 December.

Chinese officials say the lunar landing is a mission of "great scientific and economic importance". According to Chinese space scientists, the mission is designed to test new technologies and build intellectual expertise within the space programme, while the Jade Rabbit rover will gather scientific data and capture images.

International experts say the historic journey to the Moon marks the next step in China's ambitious plans to land astronauts on the surface of the Moon by around 2025. China already has more missions and rover landings planned for 2017, to collect lunar soil samples. Speculation is rife that - if successful - these missions could lay the foundations for manned lunar landings.

Watch Chinese TV coverage of the moon landing on YouTube, below: