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In November 1970, a Soviet probe landed on the surface of the moon and released two ramps. A rover, named Lunokhod 1, descended to the surface to take pictures and conduct experiments. It carried with it a French-made light reflector, which could be used by scientists on Earth to compute distances and better understand lunar geology.
Ten months later, Lunokhod 1 fell silent, its location on the moon unknown. Over the years, scientists occasionally beamed a laser around its last known coordinates, hoping for a return beam from the reflector. They got no response and figured the rover had fallen into a crater or parked itself beneath a cliff, blocking its reflector from Earth.
But their luck changed last weekend when, armed with high-resolution pictures from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists zeroed in on the rover. “It turns out that our previous best-guess position was miles off,” says Tom Murphy, with the University of California, San Diego.
"Near full moon, the strength of the returning light decreases by a factor of ten,” Murphy said. "We need to understand what is causing this if we are contemplating putting additional scientific equipment on the moon.”