NASA finds fallen India Chandrayaan2 Vikram lander

Before and after images show the Vikram impact point. Changes to the surface are subtle and are more easily seen in these images than earlier ones. Image NASA  LRO

A successful soft-landing on the moon's surface would have made India only the fourth country to achieve the feat after the United States, Russia and China.

On 11 November, the American space agency's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter flew over the planned landing site of the Chandrayaan 2 Vikram lander near the moon's South Pole. The American space agency's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) tried to locate Vikram earlier in September as well but the light conditions were too harsh for an accurate image. NASA scientists noted that the spacecraft might have been hidden in the shadows. "S" indicates the debris identified by Subramanian. But after an email tip from an unlikely source and months of scouring images of the moon's South Pole, NASA confirmed on Monday that India's Vikram Lander has been found.

On curious questions about how he stumbled upon the debris, which has provided a sort of on the date of the Lander, he casually says that what he did was not rocket science.

A previous version of this article identified Shanmuga Subramanian as ISRO scientist. The LROC team compared moon's images before and after Vikram lost contact which helped them to locate the lander.

Hailing from Madurai in Tamil Nadu, Subramanian is an app developer working for an IT company in Chennai.

The lander, with an orbiter and a rover called Pragyaan in tow, launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on July 15. On November 17, he further zeroed in on his observations and tweeted out the possible crash site of the lander.

"I had a side-by-side comparison of those two images on two of my laptops... on one side there was the old image, and another side there was the new image released by NASA", he said, adding he was helped by fellow Twitter and Reddit users.

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Now, that last part has changed. In fact, he had tweeted the before and after image of the spot. Over the course of this pass, the LRO captured an image of the impact site and the debris nearby from the Vikram lander's crash-landing on 7 September. That speck was not visible in an earlier image.

"I spent 4 to 6 hours daily after work since September to narrow down my search for Vikram Lander", said Shanmuga Subramanian.

"The crash landing of Vikram made more people interested in it and it also got eventually hooked me, which lead to me searching NASA's pic for almost some 4-5 hours every night". Newly released images show the impact crater itself, dark ejecta rays and light lines marking the debris field.

The lander crashed close to the expected site of landing - the impact site's coordinates are 70.8810°S, 22.7840°E, while the expected landing coordinates were 70.9°S, 22.7°E.

As soon as the news broke social media went abuzz with congratulatory messages pouring in for the young techie.

The main person behind the discovery is a Chennai-based IT professional, Shanmuga Subramanian. Though both did not reply to him then, NASA sent him a mail on October 3 confirming that their satellite went on to investigate the spot that Shamuga pointed out and they found the debris. "Since it was lost, there was a lot of discussion in public forums as well as on my FB regarding what malfunctioned etc", Subramanian, who trained as a mechanical engineer, said. The crash was apparently due to a problem with its braking thrusters, although the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft that released it is still operational and orbiting the moon, collecting data.

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