A huge discovery in orbit around the moon was made with an amazing new radar technique with big applications in the future.
NASA scientists have just made a big new find at the moon using a new radar technique typically meant to spot asteroids from millions of miles away: they’ve managed to spot an Indian probe that went missing eight years ago. Chandrayaan-1 is tiny, just five feet on each side and about half the size of a car, and yet scientists were able to use this technique to spot it circling the moon many miles away.
This interplanetary radar is used for spotting asteroids usually, as scientists didn’t think it could spot something as small as Chandrayaan-1. But they trained it on the moon anyway, hoping to spot the little probe swinging by through its orbit, and were remarkably successful.
The scientists knew that it was orbiting around the moon and crossing over its poles. So they pointed the radar about 100 miles above the moon’s north pole, watching closely for the probe. And right on schedule, it crossed the radar’s beam.
“We have been able to detect NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter [LRO] and the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft in lunar orbit with ground-based radar,” said Marina Brozovic, a radar scientist at JPL and principal investigator for the test project. “Finding LRO was relatively easy, as we were working with the mission’s navigators and had precise orbit data where it was located. Finding India’s Chandrayaan-1 required a bit more detective work because the last contact with the spacecraft was in August of 2009.”