The Mystery at Milichius-A Crater

It started off as a normal enough Friday. I checked the Moon Zoo forum and did a little Boulder Wars. Then I received a PM from new forum member Astrospade with a link to a rather interesting picture s/he had found. I went to have a look and as the afternoon quietly slid towards the weekend the Moon Zoo community suddenly sprang into action.

Astrospade had noticed something interesting on a NAC image featured on the NASA mission site. The object in question is on NAC strip M102365048LE just to the right of Milichius A crater and it looked for all the world like a space probe.

This is the site Astrospade looked at with no mention of the “probe” in the main text. A couple of comments below the article are from people who had spotted the same feature but no-one got back to them and the comments feature now appear to be closed. Astrospade had also contacted the coordinator for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter site but got no response.

I was intrigued enough to have a closer look. The blue rectangle on the small reference strip shows the position of the object.

An arrow points to a long thin shadow appearing to come from a tall structure next to a small white topped feature better seen in the enlarged section in the inset. With an incidence angle of 76.02 degrees all the surface features will cast very long shadows anyway but this particular long thin shadow looked different, very antenna-like and the white topped feature didn’t look very much like a rock! Unfortunately there are no further NAC images under different illumination to shed more light on the mystery ( :) ) and my observation request was denied as a similar request had already been submitted.

Milichius A is 10 degrees North and 30.2 West in Oceanus Procellarum region – just west of Kepler Crater.

The only thing we could find that came close was Luna 7 which crashed at 9.8°N 47.8°W. The difference in longitude amounts to around 546km. Was this too far for Luna 7 to scatter, bounce or spread? Could it even have broken up when hurtling towards the lunar surface with bits landing relatively softly away from the main crash site? Could the white object in the NAC image be the remains of the basket-like end of the Luna probe rather than a photographic artefact?

Luna 7
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Tom 128 took up the story and found this quote from Soviet and Russian Lunar Exploration by Brian Harvey:

” On the third day, two hours before landing and 8,500 km out, the Luna 7 oriented itself for landing. Unlike Luna 5, it was on course for its intended landing area near the crater Kepler in the Ocean of Storms. As it did so, the sensors lost their lock on Earth and, without a confirmed sensor lock, the engine could not fire. This was the second time, after Luna 4, that the astro-navigation system had failed. Ground controllers watched helplessly as Luna 7 crashed at great speed.”

Perhaps we should have heeded those last words “…..crashed at great speed.”

Tom128 also enhanced the image further. He said “My thought is that what we now see is the craft/wreckage with main body upside down and this rod pointing upward.”

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Members of the Moon Zoo team initially thought it worthy of a closer look but then the Voices of Reason stepped in. Chris Lintott reminded us that our object was at the wrong western longitude to be Luna 7 and Phil Stooke champion of locating spacecraft debris on LRO images advised that although the shadow did look unusual it was likely to be nothing more than the type of linear shadow he had seen many times before of an appropriately placed and shaped rock near the terminator. And he quite rightly stressed that it is known that Luna 7 crashed which means we shoud be looking out for a small crater rather than spacecraft debris.

So were we just seeing what we wanted to see or is there really something there? Another view with overhead illumination would certainly help. But until then the speculation will continue. The full forum thread is here.


Jules is a volunteer moderator for the Moon Zoo Forum.

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One response to “The Mystery at Milichius-A Crater”

  1. Tom128 says :

    Great mystery article Jules!

    Here are some questions that would be very interesting to resolve:

    — How long was the Luna 7 rod extending downward from the retro rocket section used for contacting the lunar surface?

    — What is the shadow length cast in the photo strip?

    We can solve this knowing the Sun’s altitude and the rods length or estimating the length of the cast shadow and the Sun’s altitude.

    Is there a correlation in length between the object’s mast and the Luna 7 rod?

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