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The Search For Apollo 10's "Snoopy" 116

Posted by samzenpus
from the look-harder-charlie-brown dept.
astroengine writes "A UK-led team of astronomers are going to use their comet and asteroid-hunting skills to track down a piece of Apollo history. In 1969, Apollo 10 did everything the first moon landing (Apollo 11) did, except land on the lunar surface. During the Apollo 10 mission, the lunar module, nicknamed 'Snoopy,' was jettisoned and sent into a solar orbit — it is still believed to be out there, 42 years later. 'We're expecting a search arc up to 135 million kilometers in size which is a huge amount of space to look at,' British amateur astronomer Nick Howes told Discovery News. 'We're aware of the scale and magnitude of this challenge but to have the twin Faulkes scopes assist the hunt, along with schools, plus the fact that we'll doubtless turn up many new finds such as comets and asteroids makes this a great science project too.'"
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The Search For Apollo 10's "Snoopy"

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 19, 2011 @01:18PM (#37444738)

    How hard can it be to find Snoopy? Just look for an area where bombs are being dropped, then search for a biplane within that area. When you find that, follow the trail to the nearest Christmas party, and you'll find Snoopy drowning his sorrows in a (root) beer.

  • by SEWilco (27983)
  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Monday September 19, 2011 @01:20PM (#37444790) Homepage

    We don't know the exact orbit. If this had been from only a few years ago this would be a small range. But after 40 years this means that the module has a massive range. We don't know where it is. Although we should have a better idea how fast it should be moving which helps slightly. Also, this sort of thing has been done before. Since the late 1700s there's been attempts to track down objects based on some observations. This started off in some sense with Halley's Comet, but that was more about realizing that a large set of observations were the same thing (Halley also had the advantage of realizing that Jupiter and Saturn had a major impact on comets and also had Newton's previous work to guide him). The next time this would be used would be in the early 1800s when Gauss (yes, that Gauss as in Gauss's law and lots of other math and physics stuff. He was very productive.) calculated the orbit of Ceres based on a few months of observations. Since then we've refined these sorts of techniques a lot, and in this case we aren't limited to ground based observations since we have a pretty good idea where and when Snoopy was sent out.

    The main problem is going to probably be that Snoopy is tiny. Something this small is very hard to see even with very good telescopes. Most asteroids that are detected with telescopes are much larger than the lunar lander. Spotting something of that size even with the (fairly large) telescopes that they are using will be tough.

    • by EdZ (755139) on Monday September 19, 2011 @01:46PM (#37445222)
      Hopefully, the lander being covered in highly reflective foil should raise it's albedo significantly compared to, say, a comet or asteroid, albeit possibly causing direct reflections to be intermittent.
    • by mbone (558574)

      The main problem is going to be that Snoopy has a low mass to area ratio, and thus will be very subject to radiation pressure. It's orbit may not have changed much, but it could be anywhere along it (i.e., could have any mean anomaly).

      • by matfud (464184)

        It is tiny. Know-one knows exactly where it is. Yes NASA did know where it went but not with enough accuracy to tell where it is now. 40 years is a long time to modify and orbit.

    • The main problem is going to probably be that Snoopy is tiny. Something this small is very hard to see even with very good telescopes.

      I think that's the understatement of the century. How is this even going to be possible. From what I've always heard, Hubble can't even resolve things like this on the lunar surface. []

      The Moon is 384,400 km away. At that distance, the smallest things Hubble can distinguish are about 60 meters wide. Th

      • by compro01 (777531)

        I wouldn't mind knowing too. Going by the specs on the Liverpool telescope, they get 0.135 arcseconds/pixel using their best camera, which is about 250m/pixel at the moon.

      • I imagine that to make the initial detection they are not going to attempt to resolve it. Instead detecting something with the solar spectrum by a two or three wavelength photometric measurement from a single pixel would be the way to go (it is also a measurement easy to automate) - there being very few natural objects made of polished metallic aluminum.
      • by gblackwo (1087063)
        Isn't the moon much closer than the focal length range that the hubble was designed for? Wouldn't this be why the resolution of the moon is so low?
      • It's not the angular resolution that matters. It is the pixel sensitivity. If Snoopy is reflecting light, the pixel on which the light will be falling will be brighter than it should be; brighter than those surrounding it. So it doesn't matter how much of the sky the pixels cover, but how sensitive they are. As the Snoopy module moves, it will illuminate different pixels. Over time, you will be able to track an object moving against the background.
  • by mbone (558574) on Monday September 19, 2011 @01:45PM (#37445210)

    There are also the Apollo 8, 10, 11 and 12 S-IVBs [] (3rd stage). (Starting with Apollo 13, the S-IVBs were impacted on the Moon to produce "Moonquakes" for the ALSEP seismometers). For all of those except for Apollo 8, there were also 4 large SLAs (panels) around the LM, which were ejected when the LM was retrieved just after TLI. (The Apollo-8 panels stayed on the S-IVB, as it had no LM.) In a real trivia, the Apollo 13-17 SLAs also should be out there, as the S-IVB was directed to hit the Moon after the LM was retrieved, and thus after they were ejected.

    There was a claim that the S-IVB for Apollo 12 might have been found []. I don't know if that was ever confirmed, though.

    • Where do you go to learn about this kind of stuff about Apollo? I'm fascinated with it, but need an initiation into the nitty gritties of the technical history...
    • by LordRobin (983231)

      Curious: What happened to the lunar modules for Apollo 11, 12, and 14-17? After the ascent stage docked with the command module and the astronauts transferred over, the ascent stage was jettisoned, right? So what makes the LM for Apollo 10 special? Or did the ascent modules for the landing missions remain in orbit around the moon?


      • by mbone (558574)

        There were a bunch of Lunar satellites in the Apollo era.

        Apollo 12, 14, 15 and 17 LMs were deliberately impacted onto the Moon, again, to make Moon-quakes for the ALSEP seismometer network. Apollo 13 LM went into the Earth's atmosphere.

        Apollo 15 and 16 released one "Particles and Fields subsatellite" each for lunar studies, and the Apollo 11 LM ascent stage (and, apparently, the Apollo 16 LM ascent stage), were left in Lunar orbit. There were also the Lunar Orbiters 1-5 and a similar number of unmanned Sovi

    • by sconeu (64226)

      I believe that the Apollo 8 S-IVB was blown up by SHADO because it was harboring UFOs [].

    • Short of sending a probe out there, I think we're as sure as we're going to get that object J002E3 is the Apollo 12 S-IVB, due to a spectral profile that matches titanium dioxide paint.

  • Awesome post, keep up the good work...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... it will take 300 years to come back, but when it does, it will be pissed...

    (yeah, i'm still thinking of a cool name, but snyger stinks...)

  • I know there will be a few "who cares?" and "why are we bothering?"... If it's in orbit it will come back around again. Much like how we need to track all satellites around Earth to prevent collisions, and asteroids/comets that may be on a trajectory towards Earth, we'll need to track this object as well. Who knows when and where it might collide with something in the future.

  • by Krater76 (810350) on Monday September 19, 2011 @02:31PM (#37446016) Journal
    Wah wah wah wah, wah wah wah. Wah wah wah wah wah.
  • by idontgno (624372) on Monday September 19, 2011 @02:39PM (#37446154) Journal
    There's even a documentary about it [].
  • Let me know if they find a teapot while they're looking.
  • When folks want to learn to program, or in fact do pretty much anything, I usually suggest they pick an arbitrary project idea in the general field and simply start working on it. *What* exactly they're working on matters less than that they are working on something and learning from the process. (The scope of the project ideally grows naturally on their existing knowledge base).

    In this case anybody working on this is developing (hopefully better) technology for finding stuff. That technology will go into o

When in doubt, mumble; when in trouble, delegate; when in charge, ponder. -- James H. Boren