The Beresheet lander came oh-so-close to touching down on the surface of the Moon, but something went wrong and it didn’t make it. Now, thanks to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the exact point of impact can be seen.
The images were captured 11 days after Beresheet crashed into the Moon. Beresheet would’ve been the first private spacecraft to reach the Moon (with some government assistance) but it couldn’t quite get there. As it approached the surface, there was an engine failure and the craft couldn’t slow its descent.
The impact didn’t produce a crater because of the angle of impact. At about a ten degree angle, the spacecraft gouged the surface rather than creating a crater, which is more typical of a steeper angle.
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The gouge or smudge itself is probably a roughened surface caused by the lander’s impact and disintegration. Scientists with the Lunar Reconnaissance think that the increased reflectiveness is caused by gases or very fine high speed particles that smoothed the lunar surface.
It’s perhaps counter-intuitive, but the crash itself can still be a scientific opportunity. By studying the impact site, and the impact sites of other lunar probes like the GRAIL and LADEE probes, scientists might learn something about the lunar regolith and how it might change over time.
Ultimately, Beresheet wasn’t successful, but as the first non-profit spacecraft to make it that close to another world, it’s still a landmark mission. And they’ve announced that there will be a Beresheet 2. Hopefully that mission will be successful.