Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted Chandrayaan-3

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter captured images of the Indian spacecraft Chandrayaan-3 landed near the South Pole
The Indian lunar lander Chandrayaan-3 is visible at the center of this image, captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter on August 27, 2023. The dark shadow of the lander is visible against the bright halo surrounding the vehicle. Credit: NASA

NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) captured an aerial photograph of the Indian lander Chandrayaan-3, the first spacecraft ever to successfully land near the lunar south pole. The LRO spacecraft took the image on August 27, four days after Chandrayaan-3’s historic landing on the Moon.

Shots from the Indian probe

The photo shows the dark rectangular shadow of Chandrayaan-3’s Vikram lander surrounded by a “bright halo“. The phenomenon is the result of the rocket plume interacting with the fine-grained regolith, according to NASA officials.

Vikram landed with a small rover named Pragyan. Both robots explored their surroundings for nearly two weeks before shutting down to prepare for the long, cold lunar night. Lunar locations receive about 14 Earth days of continuous sunlight, followed by 14 Earth days of continuous darkness.

Pragyan went into hibernation on September 2, and Vikram did the same two days later. Both spacecraft completed their primary missions, but the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) hopes they still have some exploration left to do. “Vikram will sleep next to Pragyan once solar energy is depleted, and the battery is discharged. Hoping for their awakening around September 22, 2023”, ISRO said in a post on X.

Race to the South Pole

It is believed that the lunar polar regions hold large reserves of water ice, a crucial resource that could help support human outposts. If confirmed, this is a propellant depot off Earth, enabling further exploration of the Solar system.

For this reason, the poles are a target for current and future missions, both robotic and crewed. NASA’s Artemis 3 mission, for example, aims to land astronauts near the lunar south pole by the end of 2025. The agency plans to build one or more bases in the area in the following years.

Il Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter oltre ad aver individuato Chandrayaan-3 ha anche trovato il luogo dell'impatto del lander Russo Luna-25.
In addition to spotting Chandrayaan-3, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter also found the location of the Russian Luna-25 lander impact. Credit: NASA

Russia, on the other hand, aimed to beat India with its Luna-25 lander. However, the Russian lander experienced an anomaly on August 19 while performing maneuvers to prepare for a landing attempt and crashed on the Moon. LRO also managed to photograph the crash site, which now features a new crater about 10 meters wide.”

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