Published July 27, 2011
Scientists may have just found a lost 1967 spacecraft that took “the picture of the century” before crashing on the Moon.
The Lunar Orbiter 2 was sent to the moon to map out possible landing sites for the Apollo missions, and although its efforts weren't the most successful, the spacecraft made its mark in history for taking a photograph of the lunar surface (shown above) widely considered the “picture of the century.”
NASA intentional crashed the satellite on the far side of the moon, out of the sight of telescopes and radios -- meaning the space agency has no idea what happened to the craft.
New information sheds light on that decades-old loose end, from imagery taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), a spacecraft with a similar mission to its predecessor, sent to orbit the moon and map the entire lunar surface in incredible detail.
A new picture from the LRO details a strange, butterfly-shaped pattern that indicates a pile of lunar rubble -- but is from it a comet impact or the crash landing of a space probe? Not even scientists studying the image are sure.
"The impact appears much too large (~85 m in diameter) to be the result of an impact from a spacecraft only a few meters tall, but with a solar incidence angle of only 12 degrees, it is difficult to see the crater rim and find out the true diameter," wrote James Ashley on an Arizona State University website that studies images from LRO.
"The truth is that we are not sure what caused this impact feature," Ashley added. "We are currently re-targeting the area under a higher incidence angle to help with crater rim measurements. Stay tuned!"