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Mona Lisa Does Moon Shot
January 21, 2013

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The Mona Lisa has been to the Moon and back.

Taking advantage of a confluence of available technology, scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration beamed a picture of the iconic Leonardo painting to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), currently circling the Moon.

The laser transmission was in the form of more than 4,000 black-white-and-gray sections measuring 150 by 200 pixels, sent at a data rate of 300 bits a second. Timing was very precise. The LRO's onboard laser receiver put the pixels together and proved that the transmission was a success by, after compensating for atmospheric distortion, translating the data into radio waves and sending back a transmission that NASA scientists then decoded to reveal the Mona Lisa.

It was the first one-way laser communication to have reached its target such a long way away. The LRO has been 240,000 miles from Earth since 2009.

NASA said that they chose the famous Leonardo painting because it was so instantly recognizable and because it contained enough subtlety when converted to black-and-white to provide an accurate test for the transmission method.

NASA also said that the high-art transmission did not interfere with the orbiter's scheduled lunar mapping routines, which continued unabated and uninterrupted.

The significance of the successful communication is that laser transmission is now a viable alternative to the much more slowly traveling radio waves, enabling data to be exchanged at much faster rates.

NASA intends to test the laser method extensively using the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, which is set to launch later this year.

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