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Nasa fires the Mona Lisa at the moon with a laser

Achieves one-way laser communication at planetary distances
Fri Jan 18 2013, 12:24

UNITED STATES SPACE AGENCY Nasa has sent the artistic icon Mona Lisa to the moon using a laser.

More or less. A black and white copy of the Mona Lisa has been beamed to Nasa's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), travelling 240,000 miles and retaining a decent portion of its image quality.


The image made it all the way to the LRO's Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA), in a first of its kind 'old classics being lasered to the moon' space trip.

"This is the first time anyone has achieved one-way laser communication at planetary distances," says LOLA's principal investigator, David Smith of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"In the near future, this type of simple laser communication might serve as a backup for the radio communication that satellites use. In the more distant future, it may allow communication at higher data rates than present radio links can provide."

The image shows how the effects of the Earth's atmosphere were kept at bay through the use of coding techniques usually applied when burning CDs, and reveal that anyone in the LRO who had forgotten what the Mona Lisa looks like would have easily recognised the image.

Usually this sort of thing would happen over radio waves, but perhaps not any more. "Because LRO is already set up to receive laser signals through the LOLA instrument, we had a unique opportunity to demonstrate one-way laser communication with a distant satellite," said Xiaoli Sun, a LOLA scientist at NASA Goddard.

Sun was part of a team that split the Lisa image into an array of 152 pixels by 200 pixels - all converted into shades of grey. These pixels were sent by laser pulse, with precise timing being used to slot in the chunks.

Nasa said that the completed image was transmitted at a data rate of about 300 bits per second, and that LOLA, when it received them, was able to reconstruct the image.

The image was sent back to earth using radio signals. µ


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