On October 7, 1959, a space probe launched by the Soviet Union, Luna 3, transmitted the first images of the far side of the Moon. Because the moon orbits Earth in a fixed orientation—what astronomers call a synchronous rotation—human beings had only ever seen one side of the Moon.

Luna 3 took two days to travel to the Moon, where it made several orbits before returning to Earth 207 days later. Luna 3 took 29 photographs, 17 of which were successfully transmitted back to Earth. The images, which covered 70 percent of the Moon’s far side, revealed rugged, mountainous terrain and huge craters, very different from the comparatively smooth side of the moon we can see in the night sky.


person who studies space and the universe beyond Earth's atmosphere.


Earth's only natural satellite.


to move in a circular pattern around a more massive object.

Soviet Union

(1922-1991) large northern Eurasian nation that had a communist government. Also called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR.

space probe

set of scientific instruments and tools launched from Earth to study the atmosphere and composition of space and other planets, moons, or celestial bodies.

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