The Grapevine

White Impact Halo’ On Moon Could Be Israeli Lander’s Final Resting Place

The impact site of Israel’s unlucky Beresheet robotic lunar lander on the Moon has been spotted by an orbiting NASA satellite.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which has mapped 98 percent of the Moon’s surface since starting its mission in 2009, sent back images of what is undoubtedly a new crash site on the Moon. An image dated April 22 — 11 days after Beresheet crashed when its engine prematurely cut-off on landing — shows the lander’s impact site as a "white impact halo."

NASA officials said the white tail indicating ejecta or debris and soil flung outwards by the robot’s impact is clearly visible in the image. They said this finding is consistent with Beresheet's trajectory and approach angle.

"The cameras captured a dark smudge, about 10 meters (32 feet) wide, that indicates the point of impact. The dark tone suggests a surface roughened by the hard landing, which is less reflective than a clean, smooth surface," said NASA in a statement.

NASA also noted that the light halo around the smudge might have formed from gas associated with the impact or from fine soil particles blown outward during Beresheet's descent, which smoothed out the soil around the landing site, making it highly reflective.

LRO's orbit first brought the spacecraft over the crash site on April 22. LRO captured the image using its black-and-white, narrow-angle cameras.

LRO flew over the site at an altitude of about 90 kilometers and from this distance couldn’t detect any crater. NASA officials said it's possible the crater is too small for LRO's cameras. It might also mean Beresheet gouged out a small indent instead of a crater.

NASA estimates Beresheet, which weighed only 585 kg and stood 1.5 meters tall, hit the lunar surface at a low angle of approach of 8.4 degrees relative to the surface.

Beresheet also hit with a relatively low velocity and light mass compared to a typical meteoroid that slams into the Moon's surface. All of these conditions might have added up to a small indent on the surface.

NASA found the site due to radio tracking of Beresheet's descent, which pinpointed the landing site to an uncertainty of only a few miles. Technicians compared new images to 11 "before" images taken of the area and found only one feature that plausibly could have been made by Beresheet.

The team also compared the site to craters that were made by other spacecraft that hit the lunar surface, including GRAIL, LADEE and Ranger.

Beresheet Impact Site Before and After images Beresheet Impact Site Before and After images NASA

The four-legged Beresheet was to have become the first Israeli spacecraft to land on the Moon. In so doing, Beresheet would have made Israel only the fourth country on Earth to attain this feat after the United States, the Soviet Union and China.

SpaceIL, the company that launched Beresheet, broadcast live video of the landing up until the time the lander crashed. Beresheet was only expected to last about two days on the lunar surface. It had no thermal control system and would eventually overheat and die.

This washing machine-size spacecraft clawed its way to the Moon powered by a single British-made LEROS 2b liquid-propellant rocket engine. This versatile single engine allowed Beresheet to reach lunar orbit and was used for deceleration and landing.

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