A Soviet robot lost on the dusty plains of the moon for the past 40 years has been found again, and it is returning surprisingly strong laser pulses to Earth. “We shined a laser on Lunokhod 1’s position, and we were stunned by the power of the reflection,” says Tom Murphy of UC San Diego, who leads the research team that’s putting the old robot back to work. “Lunokhod 1 is talking to us loudly and clearly.”
The remote-controlled rover traveled almost seven miles during its 11-month lunar tour, relaying thousands of TV images and hundreds of high-resolution panoramas of the moon back to Earth. It also sampled and analyzed lunar soil at 500 locations. Then Lunokhod-1 was lost — until last month when NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter found it again.
Murphy’s initial reaction was disbelief: “The signal was so strong; my first thought was that our detector was acting up! I expected the rover’s reflector to be degraded and dull after all this time, so I thought, ‘This couldn’t possibly be it.’ But it was. We got about 2,000 photons from Lunokhod 1 on our first try. After almost 40 years of silence, this rover has a lot to say.”
To read more about the rediscovery of Lunokhod 1, visit http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2010/03jun_oldrover/.
Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.