Geek Trivia: A far side collection

How many man-made objects do we think reside on the far side of the moon, where even hypersensitive future Earthbound telescopes will never find them?

How many man-made objects do we think reside on the far side of the moon, where even hypersensitive future Earthbound telescopes will never find them?

At last count, humankind has left four known objects on the far side of the moon: The probe Ranger 4 and Lunar Orbiters 1, 2, and 3. Of course, none of these objects will be all that recognizable should you catch a moon rocket and go looking for them. All four probes crashed into the lunar surface — three of them intentionally.

Ranger 4 was the problem child. Launched in 1962 (back when space probes literally had balsa wood components), its mission was to photograph the lunar surface and land a seismometer there. Unfortunately, a combination power failure and timer error prevented the craft from performing any of its mission objectives — including course corrections.

It predictably crashed on the far side of the moon, obliterating itself with a 9,600-kilometers-per-hour impact. Despite these failures, Ranger 4 was the first U.S. spacecraft to reach another celestial body.

As for Lunar Orbiters 1, 2, and 3, this trio of space probes crashed intentionally, ordered to do so by NASA so as not to pollute lunar orbit with objects that might interfere with (read: crash into) future missions. They had controlled descents, so NASA knows exactly where these probes contributed to the moon's vast impact crater collection.

Whenever humanity gets fresh field personnel living and working on the far side of the moon, searching for the wreckage of these probes could make for quite the intriguing lunar scavenger hunt. Of course, these four objects aren't the most challenging finds.

There are also 16 man-made objects that are somewhere on the moon, but no one is exactly sure where: Soviet Luna probes 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 19, and 22; Lunar Orbiter 4; Explorers 35 and 49; the lunar module descent stage of Apollo 10; the lunar module ascent stages of Apollo 11 and 16; the lunar sub-satellites of Apollos 15 and 16; and Japan's Hiten Orbiter. In most cases, these objects were in uncontrolled decay orbits of the moon and eventually crashed there — into parts unknown.

If we had access to telescopes that could fine-scan the lunar surface continuously — say, from permanent lunar satellites — we could eventually find the wreckage of these 16 missing spacecraft. Until then, it's anybody's guess whether they're on the near or far side of the moon. Finding them could prove quite the technical challenge, but it would make for some selenologically superior Geek Trivia.

The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week's Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area. Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and discuss it in a future edition of Geek Trivia.

This week's quibble comes from the September 12 edition of Geek Trivia, "Holiest of holes." TechRepublic members rharvey, javalexlan, and RealGem all nailed me for some addled cartography regarding the Yucatan Peninsula. RealGem summed it up best.

"Sorry, Jay, but the Yucatan Peninsula doesn't extend into the Atlantic. It does stick out into the Caribbean though. It actually divides the Gulf of Mexico, which is to the north, from the Caribbean Sea in the east. The Atlantic Ocean lies beyond the Caribbean."

This is one of those situations where everybody is right depending on how you split the hair. Technically, the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico are subsets of the Atlantic Ocean, just as the Atlantic is a subset of the World Ocean.

Still, I should have erred on the side of specificity, so I'm here to take my lumps. Good catch, and keep those quibbles coming.

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The Trivia Geek, also known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who's duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.

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By Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...