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Television observations from Surveyor 3

June 15, 1968

A total of 6315 pictures were taken by the television camera on Surveyor 3 after the lunar landing. These pictures have provided much new information about the location of the landing site on the moon, the detailed topographic and geologic characteristics of the lunar surface, and the appearance of the earth as seen from the moon, both during eclipse of the sun and during partial direct illumination by the sun. Surveyor 3 landed in a subdued crater slightly more than 200 meters in diameter, which has a low rounded rim and is about 15 meters deep. The spacecraft is situated on the east wall of the crater, about half way between the center of the crater and the rim crest. The spacecraft is inclined 14.7° ± 1.0° toward the west. The selenographic coordinates of the landing site are 2.94°S latitude, 23.34°W longitude, relative to selenodetic control adopted by the Aeronautical Chart and Information Center.

Small morphologic elements of the landing site include small craters, linear ridges and troughs, and fragmental debris. The craters and fragmental debris resemble those observed at the Surveyor 1 landing site, both in distribution of shape and in distribution of size. Most of the craters in Surveyor 1 and 3 pictures are inferred to be of impact origin. Their size-frequency distribution corresponds to the distribution that would be produced by repetitive bombardment by meteoroids, a bombardment sufficiently prolonged that the crater population has reached a steady state or has come to equilibrium. Some of the craters observed at the Surveyor 3 landing site are inferred to be of secondary impact origin, and some probably have been formed either by subsidence or by drainage of fragmental debris into cracks or fissures in the subsurface. Fragmental debris at the landing site is inferred to have been derived primarily by the same process of repetitive bombardment that produced the majority of craters. The inferred volumetric size-frequency distribution of fragments, derived from the observed size distribution of fragments on the surface, is similar to the distribution that would be produced by repetitive bombardment of coherent rocks by meteoroids with a mass-frequency distribution like that found from observed meteors and recovered meteorites on earth. Two prominent strewn fields of blocky debris were observed around two craters, 13 and 15 meters across, at the Surveyor 3 site. The 13-meter crater has a sharp raised rim, and the 15-meter crater has a more subdued rounded rim. The blocks associated with the subdued crater have twice as high a mean roundness as the blocks associated with the raised-rim crater, and they are much more deeply buried. The size-frequency distribution function for the fragments in each of the strewn fields of blocks resembles the size-frequency distribution for fragments ejected by impacts in strong rock, such as Meteor Crater, Arizona. Most of the fragments at the surface of the Surveyor 3 landing site are evidently part of a layer of fragmental material of low cohesion that is at least 1 meter thick along the upper parts of the wall of the crater in which Surveyor 3 landed and may be much thicker near the center of the crater. The evidence from the Surveyor 3 pictures suggests that this layer of debris, or regolith, is subject to downslope creep or mass movement. Creep is probably caused by seismic shaking, due mainly to near and far impact events and perhaps due partly to internal lunar seismicity.

Disturbances of the lunar surface produced by Surveyor 3, like those produced by Surveyor 1, exposed material at depths of a few centimeters or less that was darker than the material at the surface. The albedo of the fine-grained fragmental debris is probably 20 to 30% lower at depths of only a fraction of a millimeter than it is at the optically observed surface. All coarse fragments protruding above the general level of the surface have a higher albedo than the fine-grained matrix of the surface. These general photometric relationships can be explained if it is assumed that the surfaces of the particles in the shallow lunar subsurface tend to become coated with a dark substance; the term proposed for this hypothetical substance is ‘lunar varnish’ On the protruding surface of blocks and coarse fragments the lunar varnish is scrubbed off by the processes that cause rounding. The exposed surfaces of fine particles on the lunar surface are similarly affected, but, because they are mixed relatively rapidly with particles just beneath the surface, the process is incomplete and the fine-grained material exposed at the lunar surface, therefore, has a lower albedo than blocks and other large fragments. Coating of particles by lunar varnish evidently takes place just beneath the surface. The estimated normal luminance factor (normal albedo) of an undisturbed part of the lunar surface next to footpad 2 of the Surveyor 3 spacecraft is 8.5%. An area of the lunar surface disturbed by the surface sampler has an estimated normal luminance factor of 6.6%, and fine-grained material placed on footpad 2 by the surface sampler has an estimated normal luminance factor of 7.6%. The errors in all these estimates may be as high as 25% because of uncertainties of correction required for light scattered from the camera mirror. Preliminary search for color differences, by color reconstitution methods, revealed no determinable differences in color among various coarse blocks, the fine-grained matrix of the surface, or fine-grained material disturbed by the surface sampler.

Surveyor 3 pictures of the eclipse of the sun by the earth revealed a bright region in the refraction halo surrounding the earth, which was correlated with the position of the sun, and a series of bright beads that occurred over regions of the earth largely clear of clouds. Clouds tend to occult the refracted rays of the sun, most of which pass through the lower part of the atmosphere at the limb; the beads occurred in the depressions in the optical silhouette of the earth. Preliminary reduction of the color of the refracted light showed that the brightest region, near the position of the sun, exhibited a correlated color temperature close to 4800°K. The color temperature tended to be lower for light that followed paths of greater atmospheric absorption. Preliminary analysis of Surveyor 3 pictures of the partly illuminated earth revealed colors similar to the colors recorded from orbit by the Mercury and Gemini astronauts.

Citation Information

Publication Year 1968
Title Television observations from Surveyor 3
DOI 10.1029/JB073i012p03989
Authors Eugene Merle Shoemaker, R. M. Batson, H. E. Holt, E. C. Morris, J. J. Rennilson, E. A. Whitaker
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Geophysical Research
Index ID 70226796
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse