A space enthusiast from Chennai who worked independently, found a debris from the Vikram moonlander that scientists had been looking for and helped guide them to the spot where it had crashed. Shanmuga Subramanian, who made the discovery, told IANS on Tuesday: “It was something challenging as even NASA can’t find out so why can’t we try out? And that’s the thought that led me to search for Vikram lander”.
He looked for it on the images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbital (LRO) Camera that the US space agency had released to the public. LRO Project Scientist Noah Petro told IANS: “The story of this really amazing individual (who) found it, helped us find it, is really awesome”.
He said that Subramanian “is totally indpendent of the LRO, totally independent of the Chandraayan 2 team, just someone who is very interested in the Chandraayan 2 mission (who) used our data and identified a spot where there was a change that we had not identified”. “He went through the image, looking pixel by pixel and found that spot”, Petro added.
Subramanian works in Chennai as a software architect and told IANS in an email interview that he did the search in his spare time.
The first mosaic image of the likely crash site made from pictures taken by the LROC on September 17 was downloaded by several people to look for signs of the Vikram, NASA said. NASA and the LRO project scientists said at that time they could not locate Vikram because the are it had crashed in was in deep shadows.
But not Subramanian. Petro said that he and the LRO camera team head received an email from Subramanian about his finding and that was used to help identify the spot where Vikram crashed.
The Arizona State University (ASU), where the LROC project is located, said: “After receiving this tip the LROC team confirmed the identification by comparing before and after images”. When the images for the first mosaic were acquired on September 17, the impact point was poorly illuminated and could not easily identify it, ASU said. But two image sequences taken on October 14 and 15, and on November 11 were better.
The university said that the LROC team scoured the surrounding area in the new mosaics and found the impact site and debris field. The impact site is located at 70.8810AoS, 22.7840AoE, at an elevation of 834 metres, it said. “The debris first located by Shanmuga is about 750 meters northwest of the main crash site”, ASU said.
Vikram lost contact with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) following its launch from Chandraayan 2 moon orbiter on September 6 when it tried to make softlanding near the moon’s south pole.