S space agency Nasa has once again failed to locate India’s Vikram lunar lander. A Nasa spacecraft took photos of the landing site of the Chandrayaan-2 lander earlier this month,
but the images do not show the lander. A Nasa scientist said this could be because the Vikram lander is lying in a shadowed part of the Moon or because the Chandrayaan-2 lander is located outside the area the US space agency photographed.
Vikram lander lost contact with Earth during its descent on to the lunar surface on September 7. Despite several attempts to re-establish communication, the Chandrayaan-2 lander remained out of touch. Vikram is likely dead after having gone through a cold lunar night during which its instruments would have frozen out of operation.
Ever since the Indian Space Research Organisation lost contact with Vikram, Nasa has made two attempts to locate the Chandrayaan-2 lander with the help of its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The LRO flew over Vikram’s landing site once on September 17 and next on October 14.
On both occasions, the LRO took photos of the landing site. However, analysis of the images failed to locate Vikram on the Moon’s surface.
Vikram attempted landing in the south polar region of the Moon. The region is home to several craters, parts of which are permanently covered in shadows. The permanent shadows are thanks to the angle at which sunlight hits the Moon’s south polar region.
During Nasa’s first attempt to locate Vikram, dusk had set in over the south polar region. What this meant that lightning was dim and there were long shadows present in the area. This is probably why the Nasa LRO was unable to locate Vikram.
During the second attempt, lightning conditions were much better. However, the south polar region of the Moon is never free of shadows, which could be the reason Nasa was unable to locate Vikram even during its second try.
A project scientist of Nasa’s LRO mission confirmed that the space agency’s second attempt to locate Vikram had come up empty. “The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter imaged the area of the targeted Chandrayaan-2 Vikram landing site on October 14 but did not observe any evidence of the lander,” Noah Edward Petro, the project scientist told news agency PTI.
Petro explained that Nasa compared the images shot by the LRO on October 14 with an image of the same area before Vikram’s landing. Nasa used a technique that would help it spot any signs of impact on the lunar surface indicating Vikram’s possible location. However, the images revealed nothing.
“It is possible that Vikram is located in a shadow or outside of the search area. Because of the low latitude, approximately 70 degrees south, the area is never completely free of shadows,” John Keller, deputy project scientist of Nasa’s LRO mission, explained while speaking to news agency PTI.
The Vikram lander was part of the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Chandrayaan-2 mission. Vikram was to land on the Moon and deploy the six-wheeled rover Pragyaan. Pragyaan, India’s first rover on the Moon, would have explored the lunar surface for one lunar day (around 14 Earth days).
However, Vikram’s landing attempt went awry. Isro hasn’t yet said what may have gone wrong during the Chandrayaan-2 landing.
Meanwhile, other part of the Chandrayaan-2 mission — the orbiter — is safe in its orbit around the Moon. The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter has begun carrying out its experiments, which it will continue to do over its extended mission life of seven years.