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NASA photos show crash site of Israel's Beresheet moon lander

The photos show a dark smudge where the spacecraft crashed into a vast lava field.
Beresheet impact site on Dec. 16, 2016 and April 22, 2019
A before-and-after comparison of the Beresheet impact site on Dec. 16, 2016, and April 22, 2019.NASA / GSFC/Arizona State University

NASA has released a series of photographs showing the crash site of Israel’s Beresheet moon lander, which smashed into the lunar surface April 11 after a malfunction caused its descent engine to shut down prematurely.

The black-and-white photos include “before” and “after” images of the crash site, which is situated in a vast lava field known as the Sea of Serenity on the lunar near side. The photos were released Wednesday by the space agency.

One “after” photo, taken 11 days following the crash, shows a dark smudge about 10 meters across where the four-legged, washing machine-size spacecraft cracked up. No smudge is visible in a “before” photo taken in 2016 — just an abundance of craters of varying size.

An artist's illustration of the Beresheet moon lander built by SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries.
An artist's illustration of the Beresheet moon lander built by SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries.Space IL

The photos were taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a camera-equipped spacecraft that’s been circling the moon since 2009. LRO photographed the crash site from an altitude of 56 miles above the lunar surface.

When it hit, Beresheet was going about 1,000 meters per second (more than 2,200 miles per hour) faster than intended, Mark Robinson, a geologist at Arizona State University and the principal investigator of LRO’s imaging system, wrote in a blog post.

Designed and built by the Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL, the $100-million Beresheet lander was to have been the first privately funded spacecraft to touch down softly on the moon. So far, the only spacecraft to have landed on the moon have been those built by the United States, Russia and China.

Despite the crash, SpaceIL isn’t giving up. In a video posted on Twitter on April 13, the nonprofit’s billionaire founder, Morris Kahn, announced plans to build a new lunar lander: “We’re going to put It on the moon, and we’re going to complete the mission.”

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