The crash site of the Chandrayaan-2 lander Vikram has finally been discovered with the US space agency Nasa releasing before and after images of the area of the moon where Vikram crashed
- Images show impact Vikram’s crash had on the lunar surface
- Vikram went silent landing on the Moon on September 7
- Vikram was part of the Chandrayaan-2 mission
Atiny bright speck, a white dot on the vast lunar canvas quite like a needle in a haystack offered the first clue to the fate of Vikram, a tiny spacecraft India had hoped to land on the Moon as part of the Chandrayaan-2 mission. Vikram housed the six-wheeled robot Pragyaan and carried an ambitious dream of placing a rover on the lunar surface. However, Vikram went silent during its September 7 landing attempt on the Moon and was never heard from since.
Vikram has now been found. Thanks to the efforts of 33-year-old Chennai techie Shanmuga Subramanian, who painstakingly combed through photos of the lunar surface shot by the US space agency Nasa, we have identified Vikram’s crash site on the Moon. Nasa confirmed this Tuesday morning, tweeting images and photographs of the Chandrayaan-2 lander’s lunar crash site.
For Subramanian, an app developer and mechanical engineer from Tamil Nadu’s Madurai, the first clue pointing to Vikram’s crash site came in the form of a tiny bright speck seen in an image Nasa shot ten days after the Chandrayaan-2 lander went incommunicado. On September 7, Nasa’s Moon orbiter — the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter — flew over the area Vikram was to land on and took photos.
In these photos, Subramanian spotted an illuminated dot that was missing in images taken of the same area before Vikram’s September 7 landing attempt. Subramanian sent these findings to Nasa. (In the photo below, we’ve circled the illuminated speck that was identified by Subramanian.)
The tiny speck that offered the first clue pointing to Vikram’s crash site on the Moon (Photo: Nasa)
Subramanian’s findings were interesting. But the September 17 photograph of Vikram’s crash site was taken when lighting conditions in the area were bad. And so, Nasa waited for more confirmation.ADVERTISEMENT
The space agency once again sent its LRO to fly over Vikram’s landing (now crash) site to click better illuminated photos — first on October 14 and 15 and then on November 11.
Analysing these photos, Nasa was finally able to spot Vikram’s debris on the Moon and the impact the Chandrayaan-2 lander’s crash had on the lunar surface. A GIF prepared be Nasa, comparing a photo taken before Vikram’s landing attempt with one taken after, shows subtle and hardly visible changes to the lunar surface.
A GIF prepared by Nasa comparing the before and after images of Vikram’s crash site
The two most prominent changes seen were the white speck identified by Shanmuga Subramanian (you saw the speck in the photo above) and a dark streak in the bottom half of the photograph. The red box in the photograph below highlights that dark streak, which is the most visible sign of the impact Vikram’s crash had on the lunar surface.
Seen here is a dark mark caused by the impact Vikram’s crash had on the lunar surface (Photo: Nasa)
The photograph that best offers a look at Vikram’s crash site is a composite of before and after images prepared by Nasa. The composite shows visible changes to the Moon’s surface the most arresting of which is right at the centre of the image — a dark scratch surrounded by a bright halo.
That is the point where Vikram crashed into the Moon on September 7 when it attempted what would have been a momentous landing.
The photograph that offers the best view of Vikram’s crash site on the Moon (Photo: Nasa)
Chandrayaan-2 took off from Earth on July 22. A follow-up to 2008’s Chandrayaan-1 mission, which made history by discovering evidence of water on the Moon, Chandrayaan-2 aimed to make India only the
fourth country in the world to land a rover on the surface of the Moon.
Built at a cost of less than Rs 1,000 crore, the Chandrayaan-2 mission consisted of an orbiter, the lander Vikram and the rover Pragyaan. On September 7, Vikram began its 15-minute lunar descent.
However, with moments to go for the landing and just metres above the lunar surface, Vikram suddenly went silent, losing all contact with the Indian Space Research Organisation’s ground stations.
The Chandrayaan-2 mission consisted of an orbiter, the Vikram lander and the Pragyaan rover (Reuters illustration)
Over the next few weeks, it became increasingly clear that Vikram had crashed on the lunar surface. Even if it hadn’t, there was no hope left to get back in touch since Vikram did not have any heating instruments necessary to survive the Moon’s glacial nights during which temperatures dip to less than 200 degrees Celsius..
The dream of landing a rover on the Moon may have been lost (for now; Isro has announced plans to re-attempt a similar landing in the future), but the Chandrayaan-2 mission is very much on with the orbiter revolving safely around the Moon. The orbiter has begun carrying out various experiments and will continue to do so for years to come.