Are Chandrayaan 2 Vikram Lander and Pragyan Rover intact?
The question, "Are Chandrayaan 2 Vikram Lander and Pragyan Rover intact?" has been asked again. We may have latest news on the Vikram Lander. This time by the same person who originally found Vikram's debris which led to NASA finding the impact site.
It has almost been a year since Chandrayaan 2 Vikram Lander attempted to land on September 7, 2019, near the Lunar South Pole. The whole nation was awake at 2 AM to witness the historic event. In the last 10 seconds, the Lander deviated, and ISRO lost communication with the spacecraft. It was only on December 3 that NASA confirmed the hard landing of Vikram. It was Shanmuga Subramanian who had looked at publicly available LRO images and contacted the LRO team. Months later, the same person, Shanmuga has tweeted claiming he has found images of Chandrayaan 2 Vikram Lander and Pragyan Rover intact.
In a series of tweets, Shanmuga Subramanian (@Ramanean) has explained his new discovery along with images from the LRO Camera. He claims to have spotted two pieces of debris nearby with track marks between the two. The LRO Image M13233771378LE dated January 31, 2020, was enlarged by a factor of '10' to get the attached image. Shan also claimed that the November 11 image was 'not well lit' and the Vikram Lander and Pragyan Rover are 'too small to be seen'.
Questioning the Claim
I did a quick check of a few facts analyse the claims. As mentioned in the NASA article confirming the Vikram Hard Landing, there are a total of three sets of images available of the Landing site. September 26, October 15 and November 11. NASA's team mentioned the impact site to be at 70.8810°S, 22.7840°E, 834 m elevation. The article also stated that 'The November mosaic had the best pixel scale (0.7 meters) and lighting conditions (72° incidence angle).'
While the Lunar coordinates mentioned by Shan are close to NASA's, his claim of November 11 image being 'not well lit' is totally against NASA's 'best ... lighting conditions'. Even science writer Jatan Mehta (@uncertainquark) questioned the claims by tweeting a list of reasons. He pointed out that the rover released via a stowed ramp (as seen in the feature image) which cannot 'just open like that'. Also, the so-called "tracks" of Pragyan Rover having intentional turns could not be possible without commands being sent to the rover. He also referred to the enhanced LRO image to point out one major impact point. "It'd take something magical (for the lander to survive)" he tweeted.
Shanmuga was quick to reply with his counter-reasons. What followed was a long thread of tweets, where both tried to prove their theories. There was no conclusion to the discussions. But reading the various analyses provided, it seems highly unlikely that the Chandrayaan 2 Vikram Lander and Pragyan Rover could be intact. Here are a set of such reasons:
Previous Claims by ISRO on Chandrayaan 2: Chairman K Sivan had said in a press conference that 'it is in pieces' referring to the Lander.
The intentional turns seen in the apparent tracks.
Pragyan Rover was attached to the ramp with hold-down bolts.
NASA's before and after image ratio depicts an impact which shows debris in a large radius of more than 1 km. It is highly unlikely that the Vikram lander can be intact after that.
In the end, all these are mere speculations. Chandrayaan 2 orbiter has the best resolution available in the current cameras orbiting the moon. Therefore, it is ISRO who can provide update or the latest news on the Chandrayaan 2 Vikram Lander. It is only if the space agency releases more detailed information on its finding that the public can be satisfied. But given the recent track record of ISRO, it seems unlikely. Are Chandrayaan 2 Vikram Lander and Pragyan Rover intact? Though unpromising, we cannot be sure. The only surety, it appears to be that they'll not be left to rest in peace!
ISRO acknowledges the receipt of communication from Shanmuga Subramanian regarding recent claims about Pragyan, Chairman Dr Sivan says "our experts are analysing the same".
NASA Moon's twitter handle acknowledges Shanmuga's 'impressive find'.