When the European Space Agency launched the SMART-1 probe back in the early 2000s it was designed to have a relatively short lifespan. The spacecraft was only meant to orbit the Moon for a few years before making a “controlled” impact with the lunar surface. Everything went according to plan… except for the fact that the ESA had no idea exactly where the probe actually struck.
That was back in 2006, and now over a decade later we finally know where the spacecraft ended up. In a recent news release, the European Space Agency reveals an image of the probe’s crash site, bringing a twelve-year mystery to its inevitable conclusion.
During its years orbiting the Moon, the probe did its job well. It was packed with a suite of instruments and sent back a wealth of data on the Moon, while also testing a number of new technologies related to space communication and propulsion. It was a success by pretty much any measure, but with only a small amount of fuel on board it was destined to call the Moon its final resting place.
When the impact happened, some astronomers on Earth actually spotted the brief flash it produced. Unfortunately, no observation tools were pointed at the probe when it made its final descent, and the ESA and NASA could only guess where it might have struck.
Twelve years later, NASA has come to the rescue. The NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been taking stunning photos of the lunar surface at a resolution never possible before, managed to actually spot the probe’s crash site.
“The spacecraft carved out a four-metre-wide and 20-metre-long gouge as it it impacted and bounced,” ESA explains in a press release. “It cut across a small crater and sent lunar soil flying outwards from its skidding, ricocheting path, creating the brighter patches of material seen either side of the crater, with debris from spacecraft and oblique dust ejecta coming to a halt several to tens of kilometres in the forward stream direction.”