What Made This Curious Cross Pattern on the Moon?
It’s not a trick of the light or camera sensor artifacts, there are actually geometric lines etched into the lunar surface in the image above, captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. But these aren’t the work of ancient aliens (or Richard Hoagland’s favorite Photoshop filters) — they’re tracks left by the Soviet rover Lunokhod 2 during its exploration of the Moon in the first few months of 1973, immediately following the end of the Apollo missions.
Lunokhod — which means “Moonwalker” — made a detailed traverse around the small crater in the center of this image, and the dark spots at the end of the tracks made by its eight wheels are where it stopped and pivoted to take panoramic images.
Although not highly publicized in the U.S. during such a politically competitive era, Lunokhod 2 was a remarkably good rover, covering an impressive 39 km during its nearly four-month journey across Mare Serenitatis. (Thanks to measurements made by LRO the rover’s exact distance is now known and the 39 km estimate is agreed upon** by both U.S. and Russian researchers.) And while it became trapped in a small crater, ending what could have been an even longer run,* Lunokhod 2’s laser reflector was angled to face Earth and thus was able to be used by researchers as recently as 2005. (Source)
Both Lunokhod rovers and their Luna landers have since been spotted by the LROC, still in the exact locations where they ceased operating in 1971 and 1973, respectively.
Image credit: NASA/ GSFC/ Arizona State University
*Note: as a reader correctly pointed out, Lunokhod 2 didn’t wind up trapped in a crater per se, but the soil it inadvertently picked up while exiting said crater got dumped onto its radiators shortly afterwards, likely resulting in overheating during the following lunar days.
**One estimate announced by Russian news in 2013 had stated the distance as 42 km.