Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) appears to have found the spot where Russia’s Moon lander unceremoniously plummeted to the ground last month.
A picture taken by the LRO shows a freshly-blasted impact crater in the area Luna-25 is thought to have crashed, according to information provided by Russian space agency Roscosmos.
The area photographed on August 24 is on the inner rim of the Pontécoulant G crater in the Moon’s southeast, about 250 miles away from the mission’s intended landing site at the lunar south pole.
A crater around 10 metres in diameter can be clearly seen, and is not present in the LRO’s previous image of the area, taken in June 2022.
Given the information provided by Roscosmos, Nasa said in a statement: ‘Since this new crater is close to the Luna 25 estimated impact point, the LRO team concludes it is likely to be from that mission, rather than a natural impactor.’
Due to its very thin atmosphere, the Moon is particularly susceptible to meteorite strikes – the surface is covered in craters, some of which are visible to the naked eye.
In this case however, the new crater appears to be of human origin, and definitely cannot be seen by amateur moongazers – although at 57.865 degrees south and 61.360 degrees east, it is just on the side of the Moon facing Earth.
Luna-25 was Russia’s first mission to the Moon in 47 years. Its aim was to study the lunar south pole region, an area of great interest to many space-faring countries in the belief it may contain coveted pockets of ice, a vital element for long-term human presence and onward interplanetary travel.
However, while executing a manoeuvre to shunt the spacecraft into a pre-landing orbit on Saturday, August 19, it began to spin out of control and crashed into the surface.
‘The apparatus moved into an unpredictable orbit and ceased to exist as a result of a collision with the surface of the Moon,’ Roscosmos said in a statement.
The mission launched on board a Soyuz 2.1 rocket on August 11, and hoped to beat a rival mission to the lunar south pole by India launched almost a month earlier. However, days after Luna-25 crashed, the Chandrayaan-3 mission successfully landed, and is already returning vital information about the region – but has yet to find ice.
Russia’s failure highlights its decline as a space power since it made history by sending the first satellite into orbit and the first man into space during the days of the Cold War.
The country also made huge strides in interplanetary travel, including sending back the first photos from the surface of Venus after landing its Venera 9 probe on the famously hostile landscape.
However, it has become isolated from the international space community since invading Ukraine last year. The European Space Agency had planned to test its Pilot-D navigation camera by attaching it to Luna-25, but severed its ties to the project after Vladimir Putin launched his assault.
Only its vital role in the International Space Station is continuing, with supplies for the astronauts on board supplied using Soyuz rockets.
Since the crash, one of Russia’s leading space scientists has died after being admitted to hospital with alleged mushroom poisoning.
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