Astronomers think they have solved the case of the zigzaggy photo of the moon taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), proving once again that science rocks!
Launched in 2009, the LRO has kept busy collecting moon data as it orbits the celestial body. On board are three cameras that take amazing shots of the lunar surface. Two of those are called Narrow Angle Cameras (NACs) that work together to produce incredibly detailed black-and-white images.
The NACs record one line at a time and COMPILE thousands of these lines super quickly to create these razor-sharp pictures.
But the picture to the right, taken more than two years ago, is very unusual. Starting just below the crater near the top, the powdery lunar surface begins to take on a zigzag pattern, which ends about halfway down.
The scientists knew that this really isn’t what the moon’s surface looks like, so started investigating the cause.
NASA called it “a sudden and extreme cross-track oscillation” of the left camera—as if something had thumped the left NAC.
But the orbiter circles high above the moon. What out in space could have hit it? Aliens flying past it, perhaps?
NASA’s lead investigator for the LRO is Mark Robinson. He and his team deduced that the left camera took a hit from a fast-flying meteoroid! Before the orbiter headed into space, engineers put it through a series of vibrational tests (they literally shook the spacecraft).
So the LRO team studied the data from the shake tests and ran computer simulations to try and get the same zigzaggy effect.
With no atmosphere to deflect incoming space rocks, the moon is heavily cratered. If it were a space rock, it must’ve been small. Anything large would have wrecked the NACs or taken out the entire spacecraft. But the left camera continued working right after oscillating a bit. NASA scientists estimate the meteoroid was half the size of a pinhead (.8 mm) hitting something near the left camera at about 15,480 mph!