Russia’s lost Moon rover found!

Tracks left by Lunokhod 2

An LRO image showing Lunokhod 2 and the tracks it left in the lunar dust.

A Canadian researcher 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.

The new images and data come from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). The LRO, scheduled for a one-year exploration mission about 50 kilometres above the lunar surface, is producing a comprehensive lunar map, searching for resources and potential safe landing sites, and measuring lunar temperatures and radiation levels.

Using an lunar atlas he produced in 2007 and the new NASA images, University of Western Ontario professor Phil Stooke has pinpointed the exact location of the Russian rover Lunokhod 2, by finding the tracks left by the lunar robot 37 years ago after it made a 35-kilometre-long 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.

Lunokhod 2 landed on the Moon in 1973, and drove a record 35 kilometres.

Lunokhod 2 landed on the Moon in 1973, and drove a record 35 kilometres.

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,” he adds. “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,” says Stooke. “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 will mean that older maps published by Russia will now need to be revised.

Adapted from information issued by The University of Western Ontario / NASA / GSFC / ASU.

Filed Under: News ArchiveSpaceflight

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