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Moon NASA Space Science

Decades-Old Soviet Reflector Spotted On the Moon 147

cremeglace writes "No one had seen a laser reflector that Soviet scientists had left on the moon almost 40 years ago, despite years of searching. Turns out searchers had been looking kilometers in the wrong direction. On 22 April, a team of physicists finally saw an incredibly faint flash from the reflector, which was ferried across the lunar surface by the Lunokhod 1 rover. The find comes thanks to NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which last month imaged a large area where the rover was reported to have been left. Then the researchers, led by Tom Murphy of the University of California, San Diego, could search one football-field-size area at a time until they got a reflection."
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Decades-Old Soviet Reflector Spotted On the Moon

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  • by Kell Bengal ( 711123 ) on Monday April 26, 2010 @05:23PM (#31989304)
    ... it was on the moon the whole time.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Cryacin ( 657549 )
      What, the film studio? :P
    • I hear that day was pretty crazy around the observatory. Imagine the surprise of the scientist who looked through the telescope at the moon, only to see someone looking through a telescope straight back at him! It was only after he crapped his pants did they figure out they were looking at a mirror!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      It's always in the last place you look.

    • by MrKaos ( 858439 )

      ... it was on the moon the whole time.

      Kinda ironic that Murphy found it in the wrong place.

    • At least for the discovery. My wife is Dr. Russet McMillan, and I was spotting for her during that laser run. (Spotters are armed with kill switches and stand on the catwalk and watch for aircraft). She was extremely excited when she found it! Unfortunately on our next run, Sunday night, she couldn't hit it. I think our next laser run is 1am Thursday or Friday, we'll see what happens then.

      A better source of information on this is the UCSD press release: []
  • It's not as if it would be covered up by a dust storm, or stolen by local delinquents. And one would think the scientists would have kept precise records of it's position, making it relatively easy to find.
  • Da! (Score:1, Redundant)

    In Soviet Russia, tcheloviek shave with mirror on moon!
  • by doti ( 966971 ) on Monday April 26, 2010 @05:31PM (#31989446) Homepage

    is this an imperial unit or what?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )
      Well, metric would have been pitch, wouldn't it?
    • only if the emperor plays on it.

      why do you ask?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by roman_mir ( 125474 )

      African or European unit?

    • Canadian football fields are 110 meters.

      At least, as far as I know. I don't think I've actually seen one.

      • This is correct. Not including Endzones of course, but yes, there is a 50 yard line on both sides, and 5 yards from both of them is the "C" center line.

    • >>is this an imperial unit or what?

      You mean soccer?
    • Well, if it's a metric football field, americans would probably call it a soccer field.
  • now we are six (Score:5, Informative)

    by at10u8 ( 179705 ) on Monday April 26, 2010 @05:33PM (#31989478)
    This means there are now six useable reflectors. See the list from the investigators [].
  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...reflector dish spots YOU!!!

  • cool. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mirix ( 1649853 ) on Monday April 26, 2010 @06:12PM (#31990198)

    Every time I see pictures of the soviet rovers, I can't help but think how bizarre the things look. Like a combination of a bathtub and a baby carriage.

    wiki article [] about one of the rovers.

    I found it neat that it had some decaying isotope, and a lid, to close and keep the internals warm during lunar night. Too bad they didn't have lithium ion batteries back then eh? Not sure what they used, but 1970's era rechargeable batteries tend to suck period.

    The wheels are especially weird looking, like something from a nightmare.
    wheel closeup picture []

    • Cold batteries suck, period.

      Cold tends to slow down chemical reactions. Most batteries rely on chemical reactions to move electrons.

      As Khan said so eloquently, "It is very cold in space".

      Fun experiment: if you have an old tape player that runs on batteries, stick the batteries in a refrigerator for a few hours. Pop them back into the player, listen to the tape speed up as they get warmer.

      • by mirix ( 1649853 )

        I live in central Canada, so I'm quite experienced with cold batteries being useless :-)

        • I should have picked up on your intuitive understanding of cold by your use of the word "eh?", eh?

          Wisconsin is great for the liquor, but lousy because there's no Tim Horton's (or Waffle Houses). The concessions we make...

          /still really cold for a chunk of the year

    • If you'd ever seen old-fashioned farm equipment [], you wouldn't find the look of those wheels very unusual.
      • by mirix ( 1649853 )

        I've seen old tractors before, I was thinking more of the holes in the paddles, and the drum being made from screen.

    • by qc_dk ( 734452 )

      Not sure what they used, but 1970's era rechargeable batteries tend to suck period.

      So they can also be marketed as a feminine hygiene product?

      Badabum Tsching. I'll be here all week folks. Remember to tip you waitress.

    • One of the characteristics of Soviet spacecraft design is that they seal everything they can in atmospheric pressure vessels. This simplified the thermal design problem because convective cooling could be employed in the pressurized parts. Some of their manned spacecraft designs were repurposed as satellites using this principle. Their purpose built satellites were also pressurized. The "tub" of the lunokhod is a pressure vessel for the electronics. The Wikipedia page even mentions that the electric motors

  • SETI is HARD (Score:5, Insightful)

    by renrutal ( 872592 ) <> on Monday April 26, 2010 @06:19PM (#31990334)

    If you take decades to find a reflector in the nearest astral body, it quite puts in perspective the whole difficulty of searching for extraterrestrial life light-years away.

  • Zapped (Score:4, Funny)

    by pgn674 ( 995941 ) on Monday April 26, 2010 @06:52PM (#31990914) Homepage
    They find it, and what do they do first? Zap it with a laser. No wonder it was hiding!
  • You know, it would be nice to have a reflector on mars. I wonder if it is possible to go that distance.
    • by mbone ( 558574 )

      You know, it would be nice to have a reflector on mars. I wonder if it is possible to go that distance.

      Distance is a problem (ranging sensitivity is proportional to 1/distance to the fourth power), but aberration makes this sort of passive Laser ranging to the planets impossible. (The retroreflector arrays return photons towards the direction they were received from, which is not the direction the Earth will be at one round-trip time later.)

      There have been several proposals to do active laser ranging to spa

    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      Mars has an atmosophere that would presumably get in the way and dirty up the mirrors over a short time period.
  • Yeah ! Finally ! (Score:3, Informative)

    by mbone ( 558574 ) on Monday April 26, 2010 @10:59PM (#31993946)

    This is way cool. The LLR (Lunar Last Ranging) people have been looking for this for a long, long time.

    This (by providing a new fiducial point on the Moon) will significantly help Lunar geodesy.

    Note, by the way, that LLR returns are always exactly 1 photon per shot, so this flash was no fainter than any other LLR return.

    • by mbone ( 558574 )

      Oh, by the way, while the Lunakhod's were Soviet, the French actually built the retroreflectors, so this is a Soviet-French experiment.

  • That's no reflector! Er, wait, I think I messed up the line...
  • In the recent discussion about the other Lunokhod, someone mentioned the Discovery documentary Tank on the moon []. I've seen it since; if you want to know more about these very impressive vehicles, this is a good starting point.

Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap; it will be dear to you. -- Thomas Jefferson