July 1, 2018

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Found Image

Originally published April 1, 2009 LPOD-Apr1-09.jpg
image found by Chuck Wood

The image above, found as a loose photograph in a second-hand copy of a Soviet era astronomy book recently bought on eBay, had written on the back in Cyrillic characters Luna 10. By coincidence, yesterday was the 43rd anniversary of the launch of Luna 10, the first spacecraft to go into orbit around the Moon. Luna 10 played the Internationale (the socialist anthem), measured the Moon's weak magnetic field and detected mascons - mass concentrations associated with lunar basins. Oddly the spacecraft is not reported to have carried cameras - odd because the earlier Luna 3 had startled the world with its photos of the lunar farside. The inferred reason for the lack of cameras on Luna 10 has always been that the spacecraft was not spin-stabilized and thus could not point a camera. This image, if correctly labelled, suggests that it did have cameras. In fact, radial lineations at bottom right and the large curved mountain scarp suggest that this is an image of the Orientale Basin, perhaps of the poorly known western rim on the farside. This is a passably good image for 1966 when Luna 10 flew, but why wasn't it released? A clue may come from the star streaks. Is it possible that the spacecraft carried a camera and took images that showed star trails as the spacecraft rotated? And somehow the film advance mechanism stuck, creating a double exposure. And on that second exposure the spacecraft was rotating exactly at the right rate and direction to produce an unsmeared image of the farside of the Moon? Admittedly, this sounds farfetched, but it does explain why there are two images, one smeared and one not. Did the double exposure convince the Soviets that the West would consider it a fake, and they didn't risk release? Especially since they were also flying the Zond series of missions that ultimately acquired a great high Sun image? There remain many uncertainties about the Soviet Moon programs and the origin of this image.

Chuck Wood

Technical Details

Yesterday's LPOD: A Slice From the Middle

Tomorrow's LPOD: Saturnshine


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