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The fate of Japan’s ‘Moon Sniper’ mission remains unclear after landing due to power issue

Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in CNN’s Wonder Theory science newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.

The moon is hundreds of thousands of miles away from Earth, but humankind has played a major role in shaping it for more than six decades.

In fact, human exploration has had such a significant impact in altering the lunar surface that some scientists argue it’s time to declare a new geological epoch called the “Lunar Anthropocene.”

Experts say the epoch began when the former Soviet Union’s uncrewed spacecraft, Luna 2, had a hard landing on the moon in September 1959, leaving behind a crater.

Since then, hundreds of missions have followed, and whether they have crash-landed or successfully touched down for a soft landing, each spacecraft has left its mark.

Rovers, science experiments, golf balls and other telltale signs of human exploration still sit on the lunar surface, and it’s only just beginning as more space agencies and countries plan trips to the moon.

The Peregrine spacecraft burned up on reentry into Earth’s atmosphere Thursday after a fuel leak prevented it from reaching the moon, but another spacecraft was on its way for a lunar rendezvous.

Lunar update

An artist's illustration depicts the SLIM lander's descent toward the lunar surface. - JAXA
An artist's illustration depicts the SLIM lander's descent toward the lunar surface. - JAXA

Japan’s “Moon Sniper” robotic explorer successfully landed on the lunar surface Friday but almost immediately encountered a critical issue.

After executing a precise landing, the uncrewed Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM, mission, was forced to rely on limited battery power because its solar cell wasn’t generating electricity.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency team said it believes the solar power issue is a result of the spacecraft facing the wrong direction.

But all hope may not be lost for the lander and its two rovers, which are designed to study the origins of the moon. If the Moon Sniper can soak up some sunlight, the mission may continue.

A long time ago

Before going extinct about 4,000 years ago, woolly mammoths roamed across North America — and humans followed them.

Researchers have been able to trace the lengthy treks by studying mammoth tusks, which preserved information about the animals’ environments and diets like time capsules.

By using a precise new tool to study chemical traces in a tusk, a team led by scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks was able to track the movements of Élmayųujey’eh, or Elma, a female mammoth that lived 14,000 years ago.

When researchers compared Elma’s movements with maps of archaeological sites, it became clear that humans set up seasonal hunting camps in areas where mammoths gathered.

Wild kingdom

It took five months for photographer Emmanuel Rondeau to capture the perfect shot of a Malayan tiger. - Emmanuel Rondeau/WWF-US
It took five months for photographer Emmanuel Rondeau to capture the perfect shot of a Malayan tiger. - Emmanuel Rondeau/WWF-US

Malaysia’s tigers are disappearing at an alarming rate, and only 150 are estimated to be left within the country’s ancient rainforests. To aid conservation efforts, photographer Emmanuel Rondeau partnered with WWF-Malaysia to capture an image of the iconic but elusive big cat.

The effort was a massive undertaking that required a team of rangers, eight cameras, 300 pounds of equipment, months of patience and countless miles. In the process, an ant colony overran one camera, and an elephant destroyed another.

But Rondeau’s careful preparations paid off, and he captured a “million-dollar shot.” “This image is the last image of the Malayan tiger — or it’s the first image of the return of the Malayan tiger,” he said.

Eager to see more mesmerizing photos? Check out some of the winning images of the Close-up Photographer of the Year 2023 competition, including an oak peacock moth attracted by a wedding and ants firing acid into the air.

Dig this

About 29 million years ago in Oregon, a grasshopper dug an underground nursery in a sandy bank near a creek and laid about 50 eggs in a stunning radial pattern.

Rather than hatching, the pod of eggs fossilized and now provides a rare window into what life was like for ancient insects.

Typically, neither insects nor their delicate eggs preserve well in the fossil record. It’s even more surprising that the grasshopper nursery survived since it was found in an area where water once flowed, according to the researchers.

“There just isn’t anything else like this in the fossil record anywhere that we know of,” said Dr. Nick Famoso, a paleontology program manager and museum curator at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Mitchell, Oregon.

Force of nature

Frost quakes have been heard and felt in parts of Scandinavia, including Finland. Traffic in the town of Äkäslompolo is shown during record-breaking low temperatures on January 4. - Irene Stachon/Shutterstock
Frost quakes have been heard and felt in parts of Scandinavia, including Finland. Traffic in the town of Äkäslompolo is shown during record-breaking low temperatures on January 4. - Irene Stachon/Shutterstock

Winter storms moving across the United States this week have brought snow and below-zero temperatures to many areas — and some in Chicago experienced “frost quakes.”

Frost quakes are loud, booming or popping sounds accompanied by small earthquake-like tremors that can occur during a sudden freezing of the ground in cold weather.

While the sounds frost quakes make are disconcerting, they aren’t dangerous and won’t knock framed photos off the walls, according to Illinois state climatologist Trent Ford.

Scientists hope to unlock more of the mysteries around frost quakes, and whether they are increasing or not, by monitoring areas where the phenomenon occurs this winter.

Explorations

You don’t want to miss these intriguing new stories:

— A laser mapping technique helped archaeologists uncover the oldest and largest network of ancient cities found in the Amazon rainforest.

— The process of bringing Retro, a cloned rhesus monkey, to life has highlighted some of the limitations of cloning, according to scientists.

— NASA and Lockheed Martin just unveiled the sleek X-59, a quiet supersonic plane that could change the future of air travel.

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