Feb 05, 2024 Lisa Marie Segarra

An image of the moon surface before lunar night.

In space, no one can hear a shutter click, and so Japan’s moon lander sent off what may be its final photo in silence.

The Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM lander for short, touched down on the moon’s surface last month. But things quickly went sideways when it landed nearly upside down. Of note, the story of how a photo of the upended lander was taken is fascinating unto itself. At any rate, the lander was switched off until sunlight allowed the battery to recharge.

This reestablished connection with the SLIM lander after a string of bad news. There were power generation issues, and a main engine failure meant it didn’t quite stick the landing, which then meant the solar panels weren’t facing the right way.

A gif cycling between photos of the moon's surface growing darker before lunar night.JAXA

But then, power came back and images started coming through. However, last week’s successes are now shadowed by the start of lunar night.

Lunar night lasts for two weeks and comes with temperatures as low as -200 degrees, Engadget reports. The SLIM lander went dormant once night fell, but it wasn’t made to withstand such conditions and might not wake back up.

Now, onlookers are left with one final image from the SLIM lander before it went dormant.

“The world on the moon alternates between 14 days of day and 14 days of night. On this day, just before sunset, I took another photo of the surrounding scenery,” the Japanese space agency JAXA’s SLIM lander website reads, translated from Japanese.

“Compared to immediately after the landing, the dark area that is not exposed to sunlight has expanded. As the sun sets, SLIM goes into dormancy as it no longer has the power it needs to operate. the power system has been operating normally up to this point, including observation operations after landing.”

This might be the last image seen from the SLIM lander altogether if it isn’t able to turn back on after dormancy, which seems quite plausible. If so, the eerie darkness, especially contrasted with that taken shortly after landing is certainly a disquieting note to leave on.

Image credits: JAXA

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This article is based on an Japan’s Moon Lander Snaps One Last Photo Before Slumber. You can read the full interview here: https://petapixel.com/2024/02/05/this-may-be-japans-moon-landers-final-photo-as-lunar-night-descends/