Japan’s SLIM moon lander snaps eerie photo — and it could be its last
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Japan’s SLIM moon lander snaps eerie photo — and it could be its last


Japan’s first moon mission has likely come to an end after a surprising late-game comeback, with the spacecraft taking one last photo of its surroundings before the deep-freeze of night.

The SLIM spacecraft, short for Smart Lander for Investigating the Moon, took the image with an onboard camera on Feb. 1, showing ominous shadows cast upon a slope of the Shioli crater, its landing site on the near side of the moon.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency — NASA‘s Japanese space counterpart known as JAXA — released the image three days after re-establishing contact with SLIM. The team had shut down the robotic spacecraft, which accidentally landed upside down, on Jan. 20 to conserve energy. Because SLIM’s solar panels weren’t pointing in the right direction, the lander was unable to generate power.

But mission controllers on Earth held out hope the sun’s angle would change eventually, allowing them to reboot the lander. Nine days later, they got their wish, rousing SLIM from its sleep.

Since Monday, the spacecraft has analyzed rocks around the crater with a multi-band spectral camera. JAXA picked the landing spot because of what it could tell scientists about the moon’s formation. A leading theory is that the moon was created after something enormous collided with Earth. If that’s true, much of the moon’s mantle could be similar to Earth rock. Astronomers speculate that some ejected lunar mantle material could be found near the surface of the crater, providing samples for further research.

The special camera completed its planned observation, able to study more targets than originally expected, according to an English translation of a news release from the space agency.

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SLIM taking its last moon image

The SLIM spacecraft took one last photo of the lunar surface before entering a dormant state on Feb. 1, 2024.
Credit: JAXA / SLIM

SLIM analyzing lunar rocks

The spacecraft has analyzed rocks around the crater with a multi-band spectral camera.
Credit: JAXA / Ritsumeikan University / University of Aizu

SLIM zooming in on a lunar rock

Astronomers speculate that some ejected lunar mantle material could be found near the surface of the crater.
Credit: JAXA / Ritsumeikan University / University of Aizu

“Based on the large amount of data we have obtained, we are proceeding with (analyses) to identify rocks and estimate the chemical composition of minerals, which will help solve the mystery of the origin of the moon,” JAXA said in a statement translated by Google.

Though landing the spacecraft on its head wasn’t part of the plan, the JAXA team said the mission accomplished its primary goal of a “pinpoint landing” — that is, one with an accuracy of less than 100 meters, or about 100 yards. Data confirmed the lander was at most 10 meters off its mark, according to space agency officials, which is comparable to 11 yards or less.

The spacecraft has now entered a dormant state, prompted by nightfall on the moon. Because one rotation of the moon is about 27 Earth days, the so-called “lunar night,” when the moon is no longer receiving sunlight, lasts about two weeks.

a moon rover imaged the SLIM moon lander

A moon rover that traveled aboard Japan’s spacecraft to the lunar surface revealed the lander is upside down.
Credit: JAXA / SLIM

Not much can survive the -270 degrees Fahrenheit brought on by darkness — not even robots. In this freezing temperature, soldered joints on hardware and mechanical parts break, and batteries die.

But rest assured, the JAXA team will try to communicate with its scrappy moon lander when the sun rises again.

“Although SLIM was not designed for the harsh lunar nights,” JAXA said on X, formerly known as Twitter, “We plan to try to operate again from mid-February, when the Sun will shine again on SLIM’s solar cells.”





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