For the first time, scientists have efficiently bounced a laser off a mirror that is connected to a spacecraft whirling around the moon.Bouncing lasers off mirrors on the lunar floor is an outdated trick. Astronauts strolling on the moon first left reflectors behind in 1969. And since then, researchers have bounced lasers off these reflectors to make exact measurements of the distance between the moon and Earth, utilizing the pace of sunshine and the time it takes for the laser beam to return to Earth.But hitting a laser in orbit around the moon is a a lot trickier process. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has orbited the moon with a mirror on its again since 2009. But practically a decade glided by with out a single profitable laser bounce. In an Aug. 6 paper in the journal Earth, Planets and Space, a group of researchers report the first profitable laser contact: Twice on Sept. 4, 2018 and twice once more between Aug. 23 and Aug. 24, 2019, technicians at the Lunar Laser Ranging (LLR) station in Grasse, France, shot laser bursts at the LRO and noticed the mild return 2.5 seconds later.Related: Why does the moon shine?To ensure that the mild bouncing off the LRO returns in the course from which it got here, the mirror on its again is extra difficult than the one in your lavatory. Like the older mirrors on the lunar floor, it is a “corner cube” — a sequence of three-dimensional mirrors, every actually formed like the inside of 1 nook of a dice. When a laser hits it, the mild bounces 3 times earlier than the geometry of the mirror returns it in the exact course from which it got here.An animation illustrates how nook dice reflectors bounce mild again in the course from which it got here. (Image credit score: V.pantaloni/Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY 4.0)Tracking the motion of the LRO over time is an fascinating scientific mission in its personal proper. But, the researchers wrote, these 4 profitable laser contacts do not provide sufficient information to trace that motion. The LRO remains to be transferring too quick and too unpredictably to reliably hit with a laser, and all 4 contacts have been made below what the researchers described as excellent circumstances. The moon, LRO and France have been all lined up completely to enhance the odds of laser contact.Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin holds two experiments that he and Neil Armstong left behind on the moon. In his proper hand is a nook dice reflector, the first of 5 that NASA astronauts finally deposited on the lunar floor. (Image credit score: Neil Armstrong/NASA)Over the long-term, research of the LRO mirror may assist resolve a difficult drawback impacting the mirrors left on the lunar floor. All of these mirrors have develop into much less reflective over time, and researchers aren’t positive why. But that misplaced high quality is making exact measurements harder. The difficulty may very well be that long-term publicity to photo voltaic radiation simply weakens the mirrors. In that case, the LRO’s mirror ought to weaken over time at the identical price. Alternatively, lunar mud or faint haze from the moon’s skinny ambiance may very well be obscuring the mirrors, the researchers wrote. In that case, the LRO’s reflectivity ought to stay kind of unchanged over time excessive in orbit, whilst the floor mirrors degrade.Originally printed on Live Science.