China’s Chang’e 3 lander and rover have been spotted by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s (LRO) powerful camera.
At the time of the landing LRO’s orbit was far from the landing site so images of the landing were not possible.
However, ten days later on December 24, LRO approached the landing site, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) was able to acquire a series of six LROC Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) image pairs during the next 36 hours (19 orbits).
The highest resolution image was possible when LRO was nearly overhead on December 25, skirting high above the landing site at an altitude of roughly 150 kilometers.
According to LROC’s principal investigator, Mark Robinson of Arizona State University, the rover shows up in the NAC images for two reasons: the solar panels are very effective at reflecting light so the rover shows up as two bright pixels, and the Sun is setting thus the rover casts a distinct shadow (as does the lander).
The lander set down about 60 meters east of the rim of a 450 meter diameter impact crater (40 meters deep) on a thick deposit of volcanic materials.
By Leonard David