The Mona Lisa goes to space

Mona Lisa after she passed through the Earth's atmosphere, and after the distortions were corrected. Photo: Xiaoli Sun, NASA Goddard

Mona Lisa after she passed through the Earth’s atmosphere, and after the distortions were corrected. Photo: Xiaoli Sun, NASA Goddard

Not really, just a copy of her.

NASA is experimenting with laser communication to space, which, once mastered, will be a more reliable way of communicating across larger distances throughout space. Currently, spacecrafts use radio to signal back and forth to Earth, but radio waves can’t travel as far as laser waves.

The Mona Lisa was used in some preliminary experiments. NASA scientists at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland broadcast 200 x 150 pixel segments of the famous image via laser to the receiver in the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The LRO is one of the only spacecrafts currently in space that has a laser receiver along with a radio receiver. The LRO then reassembled the painting, fixed the distortion caused by the laser emerging from the Earth’s atmosphere, then sent the complete image back down to Earth via radio.

According to David Smith, a researcher working with the LRO’s Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter, this is the first time a laser communication has traveled planetary distances – 240,000 miles, to be exact.

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