It’s been over two months since India’s mission to land on the Moon was cut short by a mysterious and unexplained failure of the Vikram lander spacecraft. The lander’s handlers at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) lost contact with their machine shortly before it was expected to make a soft landing on the surface. Everyone assumed it crashed, but nobody could actually spot the crash site. Until now, that is.
NASA directed the powerful lens of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to capture detailed images of the area where the spacecraft was thought to have crashed. It took a while, but scientists have finally made a positive identification of the debris and crash location that became the lander’s final resting place.
The lander, which was part of ISRO’s Chandrayaan-2 mission, wouldn’t even register as a tiny speck when viewed from NASA’s high-flying orbiter. However, when the lander crashed it kicked up enough dust and debris that the changes it made to the lunar surface were visible from above.
In a brief two-frame animation published by NASA, you can see the extremely subtle differences between the pre-crash and post-crash landscape.
After scouring the images for even the slightest hint of debris and disturbances in the dusty soil covering the area, the scientists were able to lay out a clear picture of the impact site.
The crash of the Vikram lander was a blow to ISRO’s Chandrayaan-2 mission, but it wasn’t the only machine that made the trip to the Moon. An orbiter that traveled along with the lander successfully inserted itself into orbit around the Moon, and that piece of high-tech hardware is doing just fine.
It was just last week that ISRO finally acknowledged the lander was likely destroyed. The team had previously remained hopeful that the lander might wake back up even after falling silent and presumably crashing. Now we have a much clearer picture of its unfortunate demise.