Chennai Techie Helps NASA Locate Vikram Debris on Moon

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In the weeks after the Vikram lander crash-landed on the lunar surface, a 33-year-old engineer in Chennai would often stay up nights to scour the mosaic images put out by the U.S. space agency NASA's lunar orbiter.

This image shows the Vikram lander impact point and associated debris field.

"NASA has to be 100 per cent sure before they can go public, and that's the reason they waited to confirm it, and even I would have done the same", he said.

This isn't the first time, the mechanical engineer and computer programmer has been actively locating the lander's debris on the lunar surface. "I would suggest students and others to help out NASA, ISRO and other space organisations by building a good database of LRO images with features like comparison etc.", Subramanian told IANS.

Following news of Shanmuga's achievement, industrialist Anand Mahindra took to Twitter to praise his efforts and intellectual capabilities. ISRO lost contact with the lander moments before the scheduled touchdown.

The US space agency released an image taken by its LRO that showed the site of the spacecraft's impact (September 6 in India and September 7 in the US) and the associated debris field, with parts scattered over nearly two dozen locations spanning many kilometres.

The largest chunks of debris are a pair of green dots, each around 2x2 pixels in size, which cast a one-pixel shadow on the moon's surface, NASA added.

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The main person behind the discovery is a Chennai-based IT professional, Shanmuga Subramanian.

The space agency said in a statement: "The Chandrayaan 2 Vikram lander was targeted for a highland smooth plain about 600 kilometres from the south pole".

He asked, "Is this Vikram lander?" Despite the loss, getting that close to the surface was an awesome achievement.

He said that Subramanian "is totally independent of the LRO, totally independent of the Chandraayan 2 team, just someone who is very interested in the Chandraayan 2 mission (who) used our data and identified a spot where there was a change that we had not identified".

When the images for the first mosaic were acquired on September 17, the impact point was poorly illuminated and could not easily identify it, ASU said. Two subsequent image sequences were acquired on October 14 and 15, and November 11. Though hard to make out, the new photos show the craft's impact crater and wreckage scattered across several kilometers of the lunar surface.

The lander and the rover it had on board may have met a sad fate, but the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter is still in operation and is busy studying the moon in detail from above.

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