Researcher solves 37-year old space mystery

Mar 16, 2010

A researcher from The University of Western Ontario has helped solve a 37-year old space mystery using lunar images released yesterday by NASA and maps from his own atlas of the moon.

Phil Stooke, a professor cross appointed to Western's Departments of Physics & Astronomy and Geography, published a major reference book on lunar exploration in 2007 entitled, "The International Atlas of Lunar Exploration."

Yesterday, images and data from Nasa's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) were posted. The LRO, scheduled for a one year exploration mission about 31 miles above the lunar surface, will produce a comprehensive map, search for resources and potential safe landing sites and measure lunar temperatures and radiation levels.

Using his atlas and the images, Stooke pinpointed the exact location of the Russian rover Lunokhod 2, discovering tracks left by the lunar sampler 37 years ago after it made a 35-kilometre trek. The journey was the longest any robotic rover has ever been driven on another celestial body.

As soon as the NASA photos were released, scientists around the world, including Stooke, began work to locate the rover. Stooke set up a searchable image database and located the photograph he needed, among thousands of others.

"The tracks were visible at once," says Stooke. "Knowing the history of the mission, it's possible to trace the rover's activities in fine detail. We can see where it measured the magnetic field, driving back and forth over the same route to improve the data. And we can also see where it drove into a small crater, and accidentally covered its heat radiator with soil as it struggled to get out again. That ultimately caused it to overheat and stop working. And the rover itself shows up as a dark spot right where it stopped."

The find, he adds will mean that older maps published by Russia will now need to be revised.

Stooke says that NASA scientists have used his atlas in both preparation and data recovery.

His next project is a similar volume on Mars exploration which will include the best maps of the moons of Mars.

Explore further: Image: Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

Provided by University of Western Ontario

4.6 /5 (30 votes)

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Going
5 / 5 (6) Mar 16, 2010
The Lunokhods were the original space rovers, roving the Moon 30 years before the Mars rovers landed. I take my hat off to the engineers who achieved this so long ago.

probes
1 / 5 (1) Mar 17, 2010
The Lunokhod rovers were a fantastic feat of engineering. Just think of what could be achieved now, with VASIMR engines and all.
yyz
not rated yet Mar 18, 2010
Uhhh....as reported at several sites, and confirmed by Dr. Stooke himself, the above image does NOT show the final resting spot for Lunakhod 2 (it's not even in the image). For a good account of the mixup, including pix of the real thing (and what that dark arrow is pointing at), check out Universe Today piece here: http://www.univer...cecraft/

UT also has images of other Soviet hardware on the moon and a good account of these little-known sample-n-rove missions by the Soviet Union in the 60's, 70's & 80's.