Soviet moon rover helps U.S. scientists

April 28, 2010 at 5:09 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, April 28 (UPI) -- A Soviet moon rover, out of contact since 1971, is providing information for U.S. scientists using it for precise measurement of the moon's distance from Earth.

Tom Murphy of the University of California San Diego was able to identify Lunokhod 1 using images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a NASA satellite, the Albuquerque Journal reported. The rover is small, the size of a riding lawn mower.

Murphy heads a team of scientists working at the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. They bounce laser beams off reflectors on the moon's surface, three left by Apollo missions and one on Lunokhod 1's successor, Lunokhod 2.

Lunokhod 1 gives the team a fifth reference point.

The rover spent about a year moving around a small patch of the lunar surface before it stopped communicating with scientists. It was never really lost -- Mark Robinson of Arizona State University, who is part of Murphy's team, said its location was known within about a mile.

But that was not precise enough for the team's measurements.

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