In September 2019, shortly after the Indian Space Agency ISRO announced that it had lost contact with the Chandrayaan-2 Lunar lander (it had crash-landed), Shanmuga Subramanian, a Chennai-based techie made efforts to scan NASA’s lunar maps and spotted the debris and the crash site.
His prized find of the debris and crash site was later acknowledged and validated by the American Space Agency. As India celebrates the Chandrayaan-3 landing and enthusiasts re-play the grand moment on their devices, Shanmuga Subramanian has been poring through data from ISRO’s lunar landing videos and ISRO’s lunar maps. His goal is to get a likely fix on the landing site of Chandrayaan-3 (Vikram lander).
“On Thursday evening, ISRO shared a video of Chandrayaan-3’s landing approach and a top-angle view of the lunar surface. Since the landing site of this mission is already known, I had to compare the craters near the targeted site and match them with the final pre-landing frames from the ISRO video. In my tweets, I have marked a likely landing site, based on my analysis. I believe the spot that I’ve pointed out is barely 50 metres close to the actual place where Chandrayaan-3’s Vikram lander stands,” he told WION. ISRO’s intended landing site is 69.367621(Latitude) South and 32.348126(Longitude) East. The site that Shanmuga has arrived at is 69.37302(Latitude) South and 32.32017(Longitude) East.
Shanmuga is no space scientist or expert. He works for an IT firm and spends his leisurely hours poring through maps of other celestial bodies, trying to make interesting discoveries. After two hours of effort, he has been able to analyse frame-by-frame and juxtapose the lunar craters near the landing site (as shown on ISRO videos of the lunar landing approach) with the ISRO lunar map generated by the Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter High-Resolution Camera (OHRC).
Notably, OHRC is the highest-resolution camera that has been circling the moon, since 2019. In 2019, when Chandrayaan-2 crash landed, Shanmuga had been comparing images from the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter(LRO) and trying to find any new dark spot/impact crater/debris in the vicinity of Chandrayaan-2’s intended landing site. This time around, he is aided by the OHRC images, that help him clearly see the objects that are around 25 cm apart.
The highest-resolution imaging of the moon done by the OHRC is also what served ISRO in being able to understand, zero in on the landing site of Chandrayaan-3 and plan the mission accordingly. One must remember, that the Lunar South Pole is a region with several craters and even mountains that are 2 km in height. Therefore, it is crucial to minutely understand the terrain before undertaking a lunar soft landing. This is why the Indian feat of being the first to soft-land near the South Pole is being lauded by people across the globe.
Meanwhile, ISRO also put up a tweet on Friday morning confirming that the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter had clicked a picture of the Vikram lander.
However, ISRO has deleted the tweet and the accompanying picture. Based on the deleted tweet (which Shanmuga has seen), he says, that his identification of the landing site is “spot on”.
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