- On April 11, the Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL tried to put its lunar lander, Beresheet, on the surface of the moon. Had it succeeded, it would have marked the first private moon landing.
- But the robot failed at the last minute because of a software issue and slammed into the moon’s surface.
- More than a month later, NASA moon researchers announced they’d found and photographed Beresheet’s crash site with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
- The new pictures show that Beresheet left a roughly 300-foot-long stain on the moon’s surface when it crashed at about 2,200 mph.
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On April 11, the Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL tried to land a small robot on the surface of the moon. But an errant software command apparently caused the lander’s main engine to shut off.
SpaceIL rebooted the spacecraft – called Beresheet – and revived the engine, but it was too late. It slammed into the moon, never to be heard from again.
Now, scientists at NASA say they’ve found the roughly 1,300-pound spacecraft’s impact site and photographed it with the agency’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which constantly captures images of the moon’s surface.
New before-and-after pictures taken around April 22 and released on Wednesday reveal the results of Beresheet’s high-speed crash. The images from LRO’s camera system, called LROC, are shown in the animation below.
“While the spacecraft did land, it first touched the surface about 1,000 meters per second” – about 2,200 mph – “faster than intended,” Mark Robinson, a lunar researcher at NASA, said in a blog post about the images.
That speed is roughly twice as fast as a bullet shot from a gun. Robinson added that Beresheet came down at a sharp angle and disintegrated upon impact, leaving a sizable scar on the moon.
According to Robinson, the speed of Beresheet’s impact likely meant it gouged the lunar surface instead of leaving a crater. This spread soil about 100 meters (328 feet) and left a “dark smudge” 10 meters (about 33 feet) wide, he said.
Below are two images of the impact site. The photo on the left is unaltered, while the image on the right is enhanced to boost the contrast and highlight patterns of soil thrown across the lunar surface.
Robinson finished his blog post about the event on an uplifting note, however.
“Despite the mishap, it is important to remember that Beresheet was the first spacecraft developed and flown by a non-profit entity to orbit the moon,” he said. “And SpaceIL has announced they will be trying again, with Beresheet 2!”
SpaceIL has not announced a planned launch date or other details.