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In 1972, it took an astronaut going on a spacewalk to do what Lynn Carter now can do with a few mouse clicks over lunch.
Carter, a planetary science professor at the Univerity of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, points to a small, framed photograph above her desk. It shows the Apollo 17 spacecraft, the last crewed mission to the moon, cruising high above the gray, cratered expanse below.
Antenna - Radar - Spacecraft - Moon - Surface
"See that little antenna sticking out there? That was the first planetary radar on a spacecraft, and while it went around the moon, it pinged the surface," she said. "Each time it hit a different rock layer, it reflected a signal and recorded it on film."
One of the things the Apollo 17 astronauts were tasked with doing was mapping the moon's surface from the bird's eye view of their orbiter. In addition to photographing the obvious—topographic features like hills, craters and boulders—the radar antenna allowed them to reveal hidden geologic features underneath the moon's surface. The radar data were recorded on old-fashioned cassette tapes stored underneath a hatch that was only accessible from outside the spacecraft. To retrieve the film, astronaut Ron Evans had to put on a spacesuit and wiggle through the hatch of the Apollo capsule while it hurtled through space somewhere between the moon and the Earth at almost 25,000 miles per hour.
Today - Carter - Everything - Instruments - Resolution
"Today, it's totally different," Carter says. "Everything is digital, and the instruments have much better resolution. We can see things on Mars from our living room that you couldn't see even if you could travel there and stand on the surface yourself."
Carter specializes in making maps of the unseen: using data obtained with ground-penetrating radar instruments, she visualizes and interprets features buried under the surface of planetary bodies like the moon, Mars and Venus.
To a planetary scientist like...
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