Japan's Slim space probe lands on the moon

Japan is the fifth country in the world to land on the moon. Japan's space agency JAXA confirmed the landing of the Slim space probe on an Earth satellite on Saturday (local time). Communication with the probe was established, but its solar cells were not producing any electricity, Jaksa explained.

The Slim is powered by on-board batteries, said Hitoshi Kuninaga, a representative of the authority. “The data obtained during the landing will be stored on the spacecraft, and we are currently working to increase the scientific results by sending the data back to Earth,” Kuninaga said.

The Authority previously announced during a live broadcast that Slim had “apparently” landed on the moon. “On the screen, it looks like Slim has landed on the moon,” said Jaxa employee Shin Toriumi. The status is still under review, he said.

Shortly after, JAXA confirmed that the spacecraft touched down at 00:20 after checking the surface, which began its landing approach at midnight (local time; 4:00 p.m. CET). The name Slim is short for “Smart Lander for Investigating Moon”.

This was Japan's third attempt to land on the moon after two failed attempts. So far, only the United States, the Soviet Union, China and India have succeeded in landing on the moon.

If all goes according to plan, the 2.40-meter-long and 1.70-meter-wide spacecraft will land in the Shioli Crater, which is less than 300 meters in diameter. Scientists believe that the lunar mantle, a rarely explored layer beneath the crust, is accessible from the surface.

“The rocks exposed here are important for studying the origin of the Moon and Earth,” said Tomokatsu Morota, a professor at the University of Tokyo who specializes in lunar research. According to Morota, it could also provide information about water sources on the Moon, which would be important for stopping the Moon on its way to Mars. “The potential for practical use depends on whether there is water at the poles,” Morota said.

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To study the lunar surface, Slime is on a spherical probe, larger than a tennis ball and as heavy as a large potato. To orbit the moon, a metal ball equipped with two cameras unfolds like a children's action figure and rolls through lunar dust on two wheels.

Japanese aerospace company Jaxa, toy manufacturer Takara Tomy, Sony and Toshisha University in Kyoto developed the SORA-Q probe. The toy version of the ball is available on Earth for 21,190 yen (about 130 euros).

Japan's successful precision landing on the moon was a “huge thing”, said Emily Princeton, lecturer in astrophysics and director of the University of York Astrocampus, before the landing. This represents a technological advance that makes it possible to focus on more specific research questions. Usually there is only one attempt and even a “small mistake” can lead to the failure of a mission.

Japanese space agency JAXA has already made a precision landing on an asteroid, but the challenge is greater on the moon, where gravity is stronger.

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