Meteoroid strikes ASU lunar camera

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A space rock the size of a grain of sand hit ASU's orbiter. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) A space rock the size of a grain of sand hit ASU's orbiter. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The device is taking pictures of the moon's surface. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The device is taking pictures of the moon's surface. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The orbiter is only capturing images 5 percent of the time, so it's possible other meteoroids have hit in its 8 years of circling the moon. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The orbiter is only capturing images 5 percent of the time, so it's possible other meteoroids have hit in its 8 years of circling the moon. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

Lunar scientists at Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration say their orbiter and camera survived a strike by a meteoroid.

The rock hit in 2014, but the team just concluded the cause of the jolt, which created zigzags across what is normally a crater-filled image of the moon's surface.

Solving the mystery took a back seat to analyzing the constant barrage of new high-resolution pictures coming in from the orbiter.

"It was more of an engineering curiosity, not a scientific discovery," said Mark Robinson, the principal investigator of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbital Camera.

An analyst, Robert Wagner, found the unique image while searching for evidence of lava tubes.

The orbiter is about the size of a garbage can and supports three cameras.

Computer modeling leads the team to believe the meteoroid was the size of a grain of sand. They think it hit the orbiter's radiator.

"People always think it must be the size of a car or at least a basketball. It's not. It's smaller than a grain of sand, but it's going 20 kilometers a second," Robinson explained.

"If it had been something big, it would've destroyed the camera and the spacecraft. It had to be something small," he added.

The orbiter is only capturing images 5 percent of the time, so it's possible other meteoroids have hit in its 8 years of circling the moon.

It was built to withstand violent vibrations during launch, so Robinson isn't surprised it survived a meteoroid strike.

Depending on funding, fuel and other possible collisions in space, the orbiter should continue sending lunar images back to ASU for several years to come.

NASA currently has the ASU team working with counterparts from South Korea on the next generation of lunar cameras.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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