On this date in 1959, the Soviet Union’s Luna 3 probe passed by the Moon and then took 29 photographs of the illuminated far hemisphere from a distance of about 40,000 miles away. The pictures were then transmitted via radio transmission to Earth. The images provided the first-ever opportunity for humans to look at the Moon’s far side, which is sometimes called the “dark side,” even though it is illuminated the same amount of time as the side that is nearest to Earth. The pictures were a bit fuzzy, but they covered 70 percent of the hemisphere, and with the help of computer enhancement, they were used to create a partial atlas of this previously unknown region.
One other remarkable thing about Luna 3 is how it took the historic photographs. The robotic probe used a fairly ordinary analog dual lens camera with a 200 mm, f/5.6 aperture objective and a 500 mm, f/9.5 objective, which carried a 40-frame roll of temperature and radiation-resistant 35-mm isochrome film. The camera, oddly, was designed to be stationary; when it needed to be aimed, the entire spacecraft changed position accordingly. The probe was equipped with a photocell that detected the reflected light of the Moon’s surface and oriented the spacecraft to take pictures. When the photo session was complete,a robotic darkroom developed, fixed and dried the film (back in the days before digital photography, shutterbugs on Earth had to do that, too.) The negatives were then scanned by a device that converted the intensity of the light passing through the film into a signal which was transmitted to Earth.
After Luna 3 took its pictures, the probe passed over the Lunar north pole and headed back toward Earth. It snapped 17 photographs of our planet on the way back, before radio contact was lost. The spacecraft was believed to have burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere in March or April of 1960, though it may have survived in orbit until after 1962.
And with that, here are the science and technology stories of the day.
Mystery of vanishing honeybees may be solved. A virus and a fungus seem to be tag-teaming them, according to a paper by U.S. Army scientists and bee researchers at the University of Montana. Anti-fungal chemical agents may be part of the solution for protecting bee colonies.
Virus-infected PCs should be banned from the Net, Microsoft researcher recommends. That sounds draconian, but actually, some ISPs already do this, if they see that your computer is doing weird zombie-bot stuff, like pumping out gigantic quantities of spam. Rare tube-nosed fruit bat pictures. Man, that’s a weird looking schnoz.
Researchers track eye-to-brain neural connection for the first time ever. This may help them to someday construct better retinal implants.
Scientists perplexed by how solar activity decrease actually somehow warmed Earth, instead of cooling it. For some reason, this solar minimum wasn’t like previous ones.
Industrial hemp produces viable biodiesel. And don’t worry, you won’t flunk your employer’s drug test from breathing the exhaust fumes, because this subspecies of Cannabis sativa doesn’t have any THC in it.