A month after Israeli non-profit SpaceIL crashed its lunar lander into the surface of the moon, NASA says it thinks it’s spotted the site of impact.
Israel attempted to become the first country to land a private spacecraft on the moon on April 11. But, things quickly unraveled shortly after the Beresheet lander began its descent.
Mission control was forced to reset the main engine when it was around a dozen miles from the surface but ultimately failed to get it all working again; unable to slow itself down, Beresheet plummeted and broke apart.
A new image captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) on April 22 shows a fresh impact site on a region of the moon called Sea of Serenity likely created by the high-speed collision.
LRO was about 56 miles (90 kilometers) above the surface when it captured the image with its camera array.
From this distance, it could not make out whether or not a crater formed as a result of the collision, but a white impact halo can clearly be seen where it did not exist prior.
‘It’s possible the crater is just too small to show up in photos,’ NASA says.
‘Another possibility is that Beresheet formed a small indent instead of a crater, given its low angle of approach (around 8.4 degrees relative to the surface), light mass (compared to a dense meteoroid of the same size), and low velocity (again, relative to a meteoroid of the same size; Beresheet’s speed was still faster than most speeding bullets).’
Radio tracking allowed scientists to pinpoint the landing site to within a few miles, according to the space agency.
This, along with a series of ‘before’ images of the area from the last decade and as recently as 16 days before the crash revealed a new feature in line with what Beresheet would have created given its size and speed.
SpaceIL was hoping to complete a landing of Beresheet on the moon and make Israel the fourth country to manage the feat – behind the US, Russia and China.
While it was unable to achieve this accomplishment, the mission still makes Israel only the seventh country to ever each lunar orbit.
Israel said not long after the crash that it planned to conduct another mission within the next few years.
SpaceIL’s Beresheet was part of a ‘ride share’ with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, as the mission could not afford its own rocket.
After travelling over 3.4 million miles (95.5m km) around the Earth and drawing ever closer to the moon, the spacecraft finally swung into the moon’s elliptical orbit on April 4.
The landmark attempt began shortly after 3pm ET (8pm BST) and in a live-streamed event held by Contact Global Broadcasting Services.