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Scientists Bounce Laser Off Long-Lost Soviet Lunar Robot

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Scientists have managed to bounce a laser off a Soviet Lunar rover which landed on the Moon more than 40 years ago.

The Lunokhod 1 was the first remote controlled lander event to successfully make it to another world.

A precursor to modern rovers like the Curiosity craft currently traversing Mars, the Lunokhod 1 was landed in the Sea of Rains on 17 November 1970.

lunokhod 1

Above: the Lunokhod 1

It was meant to work for about three months, but actually survived for about 322 Earth days, after which point a technical hitch meant the Soviet Union was unable to contact it. Despite its demise, it remains one of the titanic achievements of the Russian space program.

The rover still exists on the Moon's surface, along with its laser retroflector which is able to reflect laser light back to the Earth.

Indeed, experiments involving sending laser beams to spacecraft on the Moon and having them reflect back to Earth - 'Lunar ranging' - have been in progress since the 1960s.

They include successful attempts to detect beams reflected off equipment left by the Apollo Moon Landings. And it's not just a novelty - the data gives scientists vital information about the Moon's composition, its increasing orbit and - indirectly - yet more evidence that the whole thing wasn't a hoax devised to win the Cold War, for you few conspiracy theorists still out there.

But the Lunokhod 1 was thought to be far too difficult a target to hit, thought to be down to a dusty or closed reflector, or a position not in full view of the Earth.

Nevertheless, researchers at the Côte d'Azur Observatory in France have now told Space.com they have now managed to do it.

They put previous failures down to a "lack of confidence" rather than technical difficulty, but said they were surprised to succeed.

Space.com have interesting details about previous attempts to contact the rover, as well as an interview with the team.

It takes about 2.5 seconds for a laser to hit the Moon and return to Earth - though only a fraction of the light makes it back, and is greatly scattered when it does.
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