NASA Moon Probe Helps Pin Down Off-Plane

July 16 [Tue], 2013, 2:05
A 1970s Soviet rover did indeed travel about 3 miles farther on the surface of the moon than originally thought, meaning that any robot hoping to break its off-world distance record will have to run a full marathon, researchers say.

The remote-controlledwas long thought to have traveled 23 miles (37 kilometers) on the lunar surface back in 1973. But a Russian team recently upped the estimate to 26 miles (42 kilometers), using images snapped by NASA's sharp-eyed .

The Russian researchers, led by Irina Karachevtseva of the Moscow State University of Geodesy and Cartography, have been presenting the new number at conferences for the past year or so. But the revision began attracting widespread attention only in the last month, as NASA's Opportunity Mars rover crept closer and closer to the old 23-mile mark. []

Now a second group of scientists who are affiliated with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) instrument suite has backed the Russian team's finding, also using LROC images of Lunokhod 2's tracks to come up with an independent estimate around 26 miles.

"I think it's 41.5 [kilometers] or something like that, but we're not done yet," LROC principal investigator Mark Robinson, of Arizona State University, told on Monday (July 8). "We'll actually have a featured image fairly soon on the LROC web page that gives that number."

The LROC team is conducting its analysis as a simple double-check, not because it doubts the number derived by Karachevtseva and her colleagues, Robinson said.

"There isn't really a controversy here," he said. "We can measure the exact distance traveled by the rover now that we've got these pictures."