Japan's lander wakes up, takes blurry snap of Moon

Winter Night is coming

Japan's Moon lander has woken up on the lunar surface and begun transmitting data back to controllers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA.)

The Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) made a successful landing on the lunar surface on January 19 but had to be shut down after only a few hours of operation due to its solar panels failing to generate power to keep the lander running.

Last week, an image of the stricken lander taken by the Lander-eye Viewfinder-2 (LEV-2) rover showed the problem. SLIM had faceplanted on the lunar surface, with its solar arrays facing the wrong direction. The hope was that once the Sun eventually reached the arrays the lander would come alive.

The solar cells now appear to have caught some rays, allowing it to wake from its slumber. Writing on X (formerly Twitter), JAXA said communications with the probe are restored, and science operations have resumed. To prove the point, it posted a blurry picture of the lunar surface from SLIM's Multi-Band spectral Camera (MBC).

X post from JAXA showing image of Moon from SLIM

X post from JAXA showing image of Moon from SLIM - Click to enlarge

Getting first light for the MBC is a major milestone. JAXA hopes to use the instrument to investigate the composition of the rocks nearby SLIM to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding the formation of the Moon.

Despite its unfortunate landing attitude, SLIM has been a tremendous success. According to JAXA, the lander touched down approximately 55 meters east of its original target. It had been on track to land within 10 meters – and possibly between 3 and 4 meters – of its target before it opted to dodge a potential obstacle. It also lost the thrust of one of its two main engines just before maneuvering, possibly contributing to the craft tipping over.

Scientists managed to briefly fire up the MBC on a trial basis after landing before shutting it down to conserve power. With power now available, the instrument has been reactivated.

Making observations with the MBC is part of the "extra success" criteria of the mission. Conducting a near-pinpoint landing without scattering bits of spacecraft over the lunar surface would qualify as "full success" by JAXA's criteria.

While JAXA has yet to confirm how long SLIM will operate in its current attitude, the lander was not designed to survive a lunar night, which is due to begin at the end of this week. ®

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