Friday 2 February 2024

Images from Japan's Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM).

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) probe has sent back it's first images, following a not-quite-to-plan landing on 19 January 2024. These images show an area of lunar landscape, and are built up by the synthesis of 257 individual low-resolution images from the probe's Multi-Band Camera (MBC). A number of potentially interesting rocks have been identified for future investigations.

A lunar surface scan mosaic image captured by the SLIM-mounted MBC (left) and its enlarged view (right). The grey area on the right of the mosaic lacks data due to the discontinuation of scanning operation. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The SLIM probe landed on the edge of Shioli Crater, a small lunar impact crater that is located within the much larger Cyrillus Crater in the Moon's Southern Hemisphere, on 19 January 2024. However, due to a problem with its engines it landed nose-down, then toppled so that its solar panels face to the west, a sub-optimal position which leave it receiving more sunlight than would be ideal. It was able to deploy one of the two small landers it carried, the Lunar Excursion Vehicle (LEV-1), which carried out a series of operations, including becoming the smallest ever independent probe to communicate directly with the Earth from the Moon (LEV-1 weighs only 2.1 kg, of which 90 g is its communication system), before powering down.

The SLIM landing site is now entering the lunar night, which will last for 14 days, and the probe which, which is reliant on solar power, will power down for this period. However, due to the unplanned nature of its landing orientation, it is not completely clear if it will be able to re-awaken at the end of this period.

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