A failed attempt to land on the moon by Russia’s Luna 25 probe resulted in a new crater on the lunar surface, as shown by images captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).
The impact site was located on the steep inner rim of a crater named Pontécoulant G, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) away from the intended landing point at the moon’s south pole.
The Luna 25 mission was launched on July 28, 2023, and aimed to study the lunar environment, geology, and potential resources at the south pole, where water ice is believed to exist in permanently shadowed regions. The probe carried a suite of instruments, including cameras, spectrometers, a magnetometer, a seismometer, and a drill.
However, on Aug. 19, 2023, something went wrong during an orbital maneuver that was supposed to adjust the probe’s trajectory for landing. Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, announced that communication with Luna 25 was interrupted and that the spacecraft had crashed into the moon. A commission was formed to investigate the cause of the failure.
Two days later, NASA’s LRO team received an estimate of the impact point from Roscosmos and quickly planned and executed a series of commands to image the area with the LRO Camera (LROC). By comparing images taken before and after the impact date, they identified a small new crater, about 33 feet (10 meters) in diameter, that matched the location provided by Roscosmos.
The LRO team concluded that this crater was likely caused by Luna 25, rather than a natural impactor, since it appeared close to the estimated impact point and after the last “before” image taken in June 2022. The new crater is one of the many scars left by human-made objects on the moon’s surface.
Despite the setback, Russia plans to continue its lunar exploration program with two more missions: Luna 26, an orbiter that will map the moon and monitor its plasma environment; and Luna 27, a lander that will drill into the lunar regolith and analyze its chemical composition. Both missions are scheduled for launch in 2024.
Meanwhile, India successfully landed its Chandrayaan 3 spacecraft on the moon’s south pole on Aug. 23, 2023, becoming the fourth country to achieve a soft landing on the lunar surface after Russia, the United States, and China. The Indian probe will also conduct scientific experiments and search for water ice in the polar region.