Left: The Mona Lisa, transmitted to the moon and back. Right: the picture with software corrections (Photo : Xiaoli Sun/Goddard Space Flight Center/NASA)
Arguably the world's most mysterious and recognizable face, the Mona Lisa can now add another achievement to its list - it's the first image to be digitally transmitted to a spacecraft in lunar orbit using a laser.
The image traveled an incredible 240,000 miles to reach the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been orbiting around the moon since 2009. According to the scientists and engineers at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, this is the first time a laser has been used to communicate with a ship in deep space.
The researchers were able to achieve this by utilizing the same laser pulses that is used to keep tabs on the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA), the module that received the Mona Lisa image.
"This is the first time anyone has achieved one-way laser communication at planetary distances," David Smith from MIT, LOLA's principal investigator, said in a statement. "In the near future, this type of simple laser communication might serve as a backup for the radio communication that satellites use. In the more distant future, it may allow communication at higher data rates than present radio links can provide."
The image did suffer some loss due to what NBCNews describes as atmospheric turbulence. The scientists had to utilize Reed-Solomon data coding, which is a technique also used to make CD and DVD playback smoother. Still, the team seems confident that lasers could one day play a larger role in our communications networks.
"In the future, we will use lasers instead of microwaves to communicate in deep space - to do it better, faster, and with smaller equipment," Xiaoli Sun, a LOLA scientist at NASA Goddard, told ABCNews.com.
Read the published study detailing the experiment at Optics Express.