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Moon and Taurus

April 23, 2012

Every new telescope has a few bugs to work out. But for a telescope that was being used 40 years ago today, there wasn’t much time for troubleshooting. The telescope was on the Moon, and the crew of Apollo 16 had only three moonwalks in which to operate it.

The telescopic camera was the first astronomical telescope of any kind ever sent to the Moon. It was designed by scientist and engineer George Carruthers to look at the ultraviolet sky. Ultraviolet light is produced by hot, powerful objects, but it’s absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere, so it can’t be studied from the ground.

The astronauts set up the telescope in the shadow of the Lunar Module, Orion, to keep it cool. But the landing had been delayed by a mechanical problem, so the Sun was at a higher angle than expected, so the camera had to be moved around to stay in the shadow. And with the changing angle to the camera’s targets, Orion sometimes got in the way.

The camera was hard to point, too, and it took some brute force to aim it, which often left it off-kilter.

Even so, the camera was a success. It snapped pictures and spectra of Earth’s aurora, the Milky Way, and other objects, providing a view of the universe like no other -- from the surface of the Moon.

Look for the Moon this evening, passing through Taurus. The bull’s “eye” -- the orange star Aldebaran -- is to the upper left of the Moon, with its sparkly shoulder -- the Pleiades star cluster -- to the right of the Moon.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012


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