A lost moon lander has been found. After it crashed down in an attempted landing in September, the location of the debris of India’s Vikram spacecraft wasn’t immediately obvious. Now, NASA has pinpointed the debris field with the help of a tip from a member of the public, after the team at the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) made images of the area available online.
“Shanmuga Subramanian contacted the LRO project with a positive identification of debris,” said a statement released on 2 December.
The first set of images from September were poorly lit, so the debris wasn’t easy to identify. But it is clearer in images taken in October and November.
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NASA confirmed the spot on the moon where the Vikram lander crashed down by comparing before and after photos. The debris Subramanian first spotted was 750 metres north-west of the crash site. The LRO team went on to identify about 20 other pieces of debris and several impact sites.
The Vikram lander was part of the Chandrayaan-2 mission, which launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in India on 22 July, and carried with it a six-wheeled rover. It was meant to touch down and explore the south pole, an unexplored region of the moon where water ice collects in craters permanently covered in shadow.
When the lander was just 2.1 kilometres from the lunar surface, it lost communication with scientists from the Indian Space Research Organisation and was unable to slow down enough for its planned landing.
Just after the crash, there was some hope that the lander might not have been destroyed and could have been hidden in the images by crater shadows. Now, it is clear that is not the case.
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