Updated: September 26, 2017 3:12 pm
Scientists have found the final resting place of European Space Agency’s first lunar mission, SMART-1, 11 years after the spacecraft crashed into the Moon. Researchers from European Space Agency (ESA) found the location to be 34.262 degree south and 46.193 degree west, consistent with the coordinates of impact calculated initially.
The spacecraft launched on September 27, 2003 and was sent into a controlled impact on September 3, 2006 with the lunar surface. An impact flash was imaged at the time by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on the dark side of the boundary between night and day on the lunar surface, however, the exact location had not been identified until now.
“SMART-1 had a hard, grazing and bouncing landing at two kilometres per second on the surface of the Moon. There were no other spacecraft in orbit at the time to give a close-up view of the impact, and finding the precise location became a ‘cold case’ for more than 10 years,” said Bernard Foing, project scientist ESA SMART-1.
“For this ‘Crash Scene Investigation’, we used all possible Earth witnesses, observational facts and computer models to identify the exact site and have finally found the scars,” Foing said. The SMART-1 impact site was discovered by Phil Stooke, of Western University in Canada using high-resolution images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). The images show a linear gouge in the surface, about four metres wide and 20 metres long, cutting across a small pre-existing crater. At the far end, a faint fan of ejecta sprays out to the south.
“The high resolution LRO images show white ejecta, about seven metres across, from the first contact. A north-south channel has then been carved out by the SMART-1 spacecraft body, before its bouncing ricochet. “We can make out three faint but distinct ejecta streams from the impact, about 40 metres long and separated by 20-degree angles,” Foing said.
Orbit tracking and the impact flash gave a good estimate of the impact location, and very close to that point was a very unusual small feature, researchers said. “It is exciting to see for the first time the real scars from the SMART-1 impact, and compare them to the models and laboratory simulations,” said Mark Burchell from the University of Kent in the UK.