India Says Good Night To Chandrayaan-3

India Says Good Night To Chandrayaan-3

India’s Chandrayaan-3 lunar probe has completed its primary mission and is now in sleep mode. The solar-powered Vikram lander and Pragyan rover were not designed to survive the lunar night, but were fully charged when darkness fell and India’s space agency hopes they might awaken when sunlight returns on September 22.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) proclaimed the end of at least this phase of the mission over the weekend. India is the first country to soft land a spacecraft near the Moon’s South Pole.

The South Pole is of great interest because U.S. instruments have detected water there, including NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper on India’s first lunar probe, the 2008-2009 Chandrayaan-1 orbiter.

Chandrayaan-3 landed on August 23 about 600 kilometers (370 miles) from the Moon’s South Pole at 69.36° S, 32.34° E. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that now will be celebrated as National Space Day and announced the name of the landing site — Shiv Shakti.  India’s first lunar lander, Chandrayaan-2, in 2019 failed when it crashed into the surface, but he decided to give the crash site a name as well, Tiranga.

The Pragyan rover rolled off the Vikram lander and traversed a distance of “over 100 meters” (328 feet).

ISRO said Saturday that Pragyan now is safely parked with a full battery and they are “hoping for a successful awakening” when sunlight returns on September 22.  If not, “it will forever stay there as India’s lunar ambassador.”

The lander made a hop just before going into sleep mode itself yesterday, lifting itself up about 40 centimeters (16 inches) and landing 30-40 centimeters (12-16 inches) away.

ISRO communicated Chandrayann-3’s progress and scientific findings over social media including many posts to X (formerly Twitter), including these.

The lunar surface gets 14 Earth days of sunlight and 14 Earth days of night as the Moon rotates during its 28-day orbit of Earth. There is no “dark side” of the Moon, only the near side visible from Earth and the far side always pointed away because the Moon and Earth are tidally locked to each other.

We see the Moon as dark during a New Moon when the Sun fully illuminates the far side. The far side is completely dark when we see a Full Moon. Both sides experience the other phases.

For a probe on the lunar surface, surviving the lunar night means lasting 14 days in extremely cold temperatures. Landers and rovers that have endured that environment so far have been equipped with radioisotope heating units or power supplies. Whether Chandrayaan-3’s solar-charged battery can achieve that goal will be an interesting test.

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