[ intro ]
In the last fifty years,
humans have landed enough spacecraft on the
if you’re not careful,
the missions can start to feel… ordinary.
Like, oh, more robots on the surface?
Whatever, we’ve been doing that since the
The truth is, though, those landings are hard.
They often depend on thousands of steps going
not just mostly right,
but going perfectly.
that doesn’t happen.
Last Friday, India became the latest nation
to learn that firsthand
when they lost contact with their spacecraft
right before it landed on the Moon.
Their mission, called Chandrayaan-2,
was designed with three main parts:
an orbiter, a rover, and a lander called Vikram.
It launched in July, and its goal was to study
the South Pole-Aitken Basin
near the Moon’s south pole.
In 2009, India’s first Chandrayaan mission
detected ice within some of the basin’s
which could someday support a permanent lunar
or help us understand where Earth’s water
So the idea was to land Vikram and its rover
near the area and explore the terrain up-close
for the first time.
Years of work went into the mission, and it
was supposed to be a big, historic thing
— because it also would have been India’s
first Moon landing.
But it didn’t go as planned.
As the lander approached the Moon last week,
it appeared to be traveling faster than expected.
Then, only about two kilometers above the
mission controllers lost contact.
The next day, Chandrayaan-2’s orbiting satellite
captured an image
of what appeared to be Vikram’s landing
site, but there was still no signal from it.
When we filmed this episode on Tuesday,
that’s all that had been confirmed by ISRO,
the space agency behind the mission.
Reports had started to trickle out that the
lander may at least be in one piece,
but everything else is unclear.
Stories like this are always hard,
but in the world of space exploration, they’re
After all, none of the countries that have
landed on the Moon
were successful on their first try.
In fact, the Soviet Union failed eleven times
before achieving the first successful landing
And earlier this year, an Israeli lander failed
in almost exactly the same way Vikram may
So even if they never get in contact with
the ISRO team isn’t alone in this.
And fortunately, no matter what happens,
Chandrayaan-2 also won’t be a total loss.
The orbiter is doing great, and ISRO expects
it will continue to study the Moon
for as many as seven years.
In that time, its instruments will study the
thin lunar atmosphere and the Moon’s water,
and its camera will snap some really high-resolution
According to ISRO, that camera is actually
the highest-resolution one ever sent to orbit
and it’s capable of taking pictures of objects
just 32 centimeters across.
That will be great for studying features on
the surface —
and maybe even helping ISRO diagnose what
happened during last week’s landing.
Missions are an awesome way to learn about
the solar system,
but we don’t always need to go to space
to learn something about it.
Sometimes, meteors come crashing to Earth,
bringing new information and the chance for
And that’s something another team of scientists
has been celebrating lately!
In the journal American Mineralogist,
a team from Caltech recently published their
study of the Wedderburn meteorite,
which was discovered in Australia in 1951.
It’s a cool red and black rock,
but the researchers confirmed something special
It contains a new, naturally-occurring mineral!
That find came with a pretty nifty perk, too:
They got to name it!
By rule, only minerals known to exist in nature
get their own proper names.
So even though scientists have seen this one
in smelters for decades,
it’s always been called by its chemical
The team chose to call this mineral edscot
after the American scientist Ed Scott.
Who first proposed the mineral exist in the
At the time, though, instruments weren’t
advanced enough for Scott to confirm the mineral
so that’s where this new research came in.
The team from Caltech examined their sample
using methods like scanning electron microscopy,
which uses a beam of electrons, rather than
Those images revealed tiny pieces of edscottite
squished between other minerals.
And the images were detailed enough for the
team to study the mineral’s structure
and finally confirm Scott’s hypothesis from
As for how the mineral got there?
Well, it may have been surprisingly similar
to how it’s made in smelters on Earth.
Wedderburn is an iron meteorite,
which means it was most likely part of the
core of a large asteroid or small planet.
This object likely formed early in the solar
system when a bunch of smaller rocks got crunched
All those collisions would have added a lot
of heat to the object,
which would have helped its molten metal sink
towards the center to form a core.
“Hot metal” also sounds a lot like the
conditions inside a smelter,
so it all kind of fits together.
Still, think about how amazing that is:
A piece of an asteroid or planet that hasn’t
existed for millions or billions of years
somehow ended up on Earth.
And now, we get to study it.
The researchers aren’t positive why edscottite
hasn’t been found in other iron meteorites,
so there are more questions to be answered
But whatever the reason,
it’s pretty cool that something first found
as industrial waste turns out to be part of
the solar system’s building blocks.
Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
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We’re glad to have you.
[ outro ]