Exactly 54 years ago, the Soviet Union’s Luna 3 Probe opened its camera shutter and snapped the first pictures of the lunar far side — a sight that had eluded human eyes since the beginning of time.
Top image: The first photo of the lunar far side taken by the Soviet spacecraft Luna 3 on Oct. 7, 1959. The right three-quarters of the disk is the far side. A = Mare Moscoviense, B = Tsiolkovsky Crater with central peak, C = Mare Smythii (on the near side-far side border) and D = Mare Crisium (near side). Credit: Roscosmos
For millennia, human eyes have seen only one face of the moon. Put a dude from the Iron Age in a time machine and whisk him to 2013 and he’d see the same pattern of light lunar highlands punctuated by dark grey spots you see. Night after night after night.
Telephoto view of the far side with Mare Smythii (Sea of Smyth) at left and bright crater Giordano Bruno at center. Credit: Roscosmos
That all changed 54 years ago today when the Soviet Union’s Luna 3 probe opened its camera shutter and snapped the first pictures of the lunar far side. Though blurry and banded with electronic noise, everyone who saw them sat up in surprise. The backside barely resembled the front. It lacked in the familiar lunar maria, the dark spots that we instinctively patch together to form the face of the “man in the moon”.