NASA says it has captured aerial images of the Beresheet crash site following Israel’s failed lunar landing attempt last month.
The spacecraft malfunctioned just seconds before attempting to touch down at an ancient volcanic field known as Sea of Serenity, or Mare Serenitatis. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) captured the impact site photo on April 22 using a three-imager system.
Taken 90 kilometers (56 miles) above the surface, the image shows a 10-meter-wide (33-foot-wide) dark smudge that looks to be where Beresheet crashed. Its darker tone is less reflective than a smooth surface, indicating an area that has been “roughened” due to something disturbing the surface of the moon.
Space experts note that it is unclear whether Beresheet created a crater or just a small indent on the surface given its low angle of approach, light mass, and low velocity when compared to a meteorite of the same size. However, NASA is quick to advise that there are lots of clues that suggest the imprint is, in fact, man-made and not caused by a meteorite.
“Most importantly, we knew the coordinates of the landing site within a few miles thanks to radio tracking of Beresheet, and we have 11 ‘before’ images of the area, spanning a decade, and three ‘after’ images. In all of these images, including one taken 16 days before the landing, we saw only one new feature of the size Beresheet would have created,” wrote the space agency, adding that mathematical models allowed for the size and shape of the crater to be estimated.
If successful, the Beresheet landing would have been the first privately funded and operated lunar landing ever – and Israel’s first moon landing, to boot.
“We didn’t make it, but we definitely tried, and I think the achievement of getting to where we got is pretty tremendous,” Morris Kahn, SpaceIL's president and primary funder, said at the time in the 51-minute live-stream of the attempt. “I think we can be proud... you win some, you lose some.”
Israel hopes to join China, Russia, and the US by becoming the fourth lunar nation.