He’s alive! The Japanese moon lander comes to life and begins taking photos
Ten days after its soft landing on the lunar surface, Japan’s history-making Lunar Exploration Intelligent Lander (SLIM) is back in action. The lander suffered a minor mishap while making its delicate landing, and ended up on its side, preventing the solar panels from working and leaving the vehicle running on batteries. Importantly, the solar panels were facing west — facing the sun at the time — leaving the team to hope that as the moon slowly rotated, sunlight would eventually reach the panels. And so it happened yesterday. SLIM has woken up and sent a picture of himself.
Without wasting any time, the team got to work on the science mission, which has already exceeded the expectations of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The target was a soft, accurate landing at a distance of 100 meters (330 ft) from a designated target area. In comparison, Apollo 11’s expected landing site was an oval measuring 20 kilometers by 5 kilometers (12 by 3.1 miles). SLIM appears to have landed just 55 meters (180 feet) from its target, an accuracy never before achieved in another world.
Despite the slightly askew landing, SLIM has deployed its two small rovers — one of which captured SLIM’s image tilted to the surface — and they are exploring their surroundings. Now that power is back and it no longer has to rely on batteries, SLIM is using its cameras to study interesting rocks near the lander.
Six of them have been identified and named after dog breeds: Toy Poodle, Shiba Inu, Bulldog, Akita Inu, Kai Ken, and Saint Bernard. SLIM set out to analyze the Toy Poodle rock using spectroscopy, a technique that lets us know the composition of an object based on its light. Once the Toy Poodle is fully analyzed, SLIM will move on to the next rock.
While work was continuing on the surface, SLIM was also captured from orbit. On January 22, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft passed over the landing site and captured an image of SLIM from orbit. LRO was about 80 kilometers (50 miles) above the lunar surface at the time. The before-and-after photo shows not only the 2.4-meter (8-foot) lander but also the effects of its rocket on the Moon.
Retrograde rockets lifted the top layer of lunar soil, the regolith, which is darker than the layer beneath it. It is made of thin, fresh, small and sharp rocks. It is dangerous to machines and even to humans. Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison H. Schmidt was discovered to be allergic to moon dust.
Landing location before and after SLIM landing.
Image source: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University
The process of raising the earth around the Indian Vikram lander was seen last summer and even during the Apollo missions. So much so that during the Apollo 11 mission, Buzz Aldrin noted that they were “picking up some dust” as they were about to land on the moon.
SLIM will now do its best to make up for lost time and conduct its science mission before the sun sets on it and the lander returns to sleep mode, preparing for a 14-day freezing lunar night.