Luna 2 anniversary

Yesterday was the 48th anniversary of the first human-made object - Luna 2 - reaching the surface of the Moon. I say yesterday but the web is pretty divided on the exact timing of the impact with various websites claiming different times/days for it. The time I'll take is from the radio measurements made at Jodrell Bank Observatory which stopped at 21:01:23 UT on 13th September 1959.

The Jodrell involvement is quite a nice story in which Moscow sent the launch details and the timing of the impact to Sir Bernard Lovell at Jodrell Bank just as he was heading off to a game of cricket:

"After having had an early lunch he [Sir Bernard Lovell] headed for the cricket ground at 1230 UT to be in time for the match due to start at 1330 UT. Just after leaving his home a child signalled him to stop his car and told him "You must come back, you're urgently wanted on the phone". The duty controller at Jodrell Bank informed Sir Bernard that the Russians 'had launched a rocket which would reach the moon on Sunday evening'. A reporter phoned and asked what Jodrell Bank 'was going to do about it'? To which Sir Bernard replied 'I am going to play cricket'. Having been unable to track Luna 1 and receiving very little help from the Russians in locating that probe he was not so keen on wasting the observatory's time on another moon probe. The cricket match took a tea break at 1550 UT. Sir Bernhard then phoned his colleague John Davies and agreed to meet at the observatory at 1830 UT."

On the 13th September, Moscow sent more information giving the directions to observe in between 17:00 UT and 21:00 UT - the expected time of impact - and Jodrell managed to record doppler measurements until the signals stopped.

I still find it amazing that in a little under two years from the launch of the first artificial satellite (orbiting at an altitude around 250 km), humanity managed to reach 380,000 km to the Moon. Within 10 years of that we got people there and back. We are now just about reaching the Heliopause with unmanned probes but people still seem to be confined to distances less than 350 km.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Friday 14th Sep 2007 (18:33 BST) | Permalink
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