Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Lunar Orbiter images last seen 47 years ago

Lunar Orbiter 2 frame 159 (H2), an approximately 4.5 by 6 kilometers stretch of lunar mare 250 km southwest of Copernicus. One of three high-resolution photographs swept up, developed, scanned and radioed back to Earth in 1966. The fully-restored, previously incomplete session has been restored by the Lunar Orbiter Image Restoration Project (LOIRP).
Keith Cowing

After being forgotten for nearly 47 years, three high resolution images taken by the Lunar Orbiter II spacecraft have been rediscovered by the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP).

It is unlikely that anyone has seen these images since they were sent back to Earth. Indeed, it is unlikely that very many people saw them at that time either.

The three high resolution images were taken along with a medium resolution image on 23 November 1996 at 17:05:39 GMT. The center point of the images was 26.94 West Longitude, 3.196 degrees North Latitude. The images were taken at an altitude of 43.6 km and the image resolution is 0.93 meters.

Thumbnail of the medium resolution image, from the Lunar and Planetary Institute catalog. The area captured at high resolution in November 1966 is outlined at center. The area seen in "H2" above is outlined in yellow. This region is characterized by ejecta and secondary craters, primarily radiant from the Copernicus impact from 250 km northeast.
We recently came across these three images (#2159) and noticed that they do not appear online at the LPI Lunar Orbiter database. Only the medium resolution image gets mentioned at LPI.

These three images were retrieved from original Lunar Orbiter program analog data tapes yet they appear nowhere in NASA's publications. They do appear on microfilm archives at LOIRP and are mentioned in a simple data log online at LPI. LOIRP has a more extensive computer printout of this data that shows more detail about the images - but not the images themselves.

Among the highest resolution Wide Angle Camera images of the region, among LROC images thus far released to the Planetary Data System (PDS), the area of interest is smaller than a postage stamp, above the right (east) central edge of this 32.4 km-wide field of view from LROC Wide Angle Camera (WAC) observation M166025782C (604 nm), LRO orbit 9601, July 23, 2011; 62.86° angle of incidence, resolution 55.85 meters per pixel from 40.64 km [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Unless someone happened to be looking through this microfilm collection (LOIRP has the only extant copy) then it is pretty safe to assume that no one has actually seen these images since a technician saw them on a TV monitor in 1966.

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