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Space, the Moon, and the Hungarians - an introduction

The Moon as seen by Apollo 12Puli Space Technologies is more than just a team sending a probe to the Moon. We are developing a wide range of activities connected to space sciences, and we consider it a top priority to let others get involved in this as well. We believe that our success depends on allowing many people to contribute to the discovery of the world outside our planet, no matter how small that contribution is. From a school project to professional scientific work, every such activity brings us a step closer to better understand the universe. It also gives a chance to the broader public to get a taste of the final frontier for humankind: space.

As a start, we are creating a campaign to promote scientific thinking and to raise general awareness about the importance of space in our everyday life. Since our team has many ties to the country of Hungary, our first program will mainly target the Hungarian audience and the country's role in space exploration. We will produce a series of articles on this page detailing Hungary's past and present projects aiming for the skies, with a special focus on Moon related activities.

The country has a surprisingly rich space history, mostly unknown to the general public. As the seventh nation to send a man to space, Hungary's first cosmonaut orbited Earth in 1980 decades before many of today's prominent powers. But apart from being involved in the Soviet space program and doing various experiments on several space stations, Hungarians also worked in the Apollo program back in the '60s, and are taking part in missions of the European Space Agency both in engineering and in scientific research today.

This article series by Puli Space Technologies aims to provide an overview of these topics and many more, so stay with us and get a glimpse of how such a small country set foot outside our home planet, in Space, the Moon, and the Hungarians.

By Máté Ravasz

The articles are:

An unexpected visitor at Andromeda

Space Exploration with Your Own Hands: Hunveyor Conquers the Field

Luna 16 and the Hungarians: a bit of Moon dust in Budapest

Zoltán Bay and the Moon radar experiment

Interview with Ferenc Pavlics, lead developer of the Apollo Lunar Rovers

Moon craters, named after Hungarians

Miklós Lovas and the impact of Luna-2

Moon craters, named after Hungarians

Looking up to the sky, many objects and surface forms remembering the names of Hungarian people look back at us. On Mercury, Venus, Mars and on various smaller celestial bodies numerous shapes were christened after Hungarian scientists and artists. But we do not have to travel that far to find Hungarians in space, it is enough to look up to the Moon to come across names like Loránd Eötvös or Tódor Kármán.


During the centuries a great deal of Hungarian researchers helped the development of science from the invention of seemingly simple objects like matchsticks to the design of the first Moon-rocket. Similarly to the Nobel-prize and other titles of honor it is a significant acknowledgement if an object in space is named after somebody. Nowadays when we open a map of the Moon, we can find sixteen Hungarian related names on it.

It is difficult to decide whether sixteen names are a lot or a few, but it represents the fact that Hungarian researchers have always been in the frontlines of science. It is interesting that on the Moon we can find sixteen craters, which is almost as many as the number of our Nobel laureates (which is fifteen), even though the two lists differ in most names.

Of the sixteen craters, we can find five on the near side of the Moon. This is because the far side was explored only in the second half of the 20th century, with the help of the first space satellites. In that time several thousand surface forms needed a name, and so they had a better chance to be named after Hungarian scientists.




















































Figure 1.: The name of the craters are bold, then comes their diameter, and finally with italics their position: E.s. means Earth side, O.s. means other side which cannot be seen from Earth.


The International Astronomical Union (IAU), the organization responsible for the nomenclature, lists the nationality of some names incorrectly. For example Rhaeticust is marked Hungarian, only because he was born in Kassa (today Kosice, Slovak Republic).

On the other hand the 18th century polyhistor János Segner, born about two centuries later, is listed correctly as Hungarian. He founded the observatory of the German university of Göttingen, and many people recognize him as the creator of the Segner-wheel, predecessor of the turbine. Apart from these he made other discoveries mostly in physics, mathematics and chemistry, therefore earning a place on the Moon remembering his name. The crater has an intensely eroded rim, and a mostly filled-up bottom.

Miksa Hell lived in the same era as Segner, he was a famous astronomer. Hell participated in the founding of many Hungarian observatories, like the ones in Buda, Eger, Nagyszombat, and Gyulafehérvár. He was well recognized in his time, which is shown by the fact that the Danish ruler asked him to observe and examine a Venus-transit. Interestingly, János Sajnovics who accompanied him on this journey, discovered the relationship between the Hungarian and Lapp languages. Knowing the life and work of Hell it is not surprising that his name appears on the map of the Moon. The crater named after him has an extraordinary structure: Beginning from its high pitched walls concentric circles can be observed until its center.

1. picture: The Hell Crater

Not much later Laszló Weinek has also observed a Venus-transit in 1873, but he appears in the IAU list as Czechoslovakian. He was born in Buda as the child of German parents, but he always considered himself Hungarian. In his early years he was interested in photography, he was the leader of the photographers in the expedition observing a Venus-transit. He started to deal with the Moon at the University of Prague, and he united advantages of photography and drawing. He published a Moon-atlas composed of his maps created with his special method. That time he could never imagine that his name will appear on the topography of the Moon. The crater of Weinek is extremely flat; its shape fits well to the similar surface structures.

But Hungarian scientists did not only excel in observing the Morning star. The astronomer and surveyor János Zách lived around the turning point of the 18th – 19th century, his main interests were an observation of a Mercury-transit, and organizing an international team for the discovery of a suspected planet between Mars and Jupiter. This discovery was not successful for obvious reasons. He founded the international astronomic journal titled Allgemeine Geographische Ephemeriden, which was first of its art in Europe. The crater with his name has a center peak, it is a high, steep walled impact form, which has a smaller crater at its north-western rim.

According to the nomenclature created at the time of János Zách, József Petzval is marked as Austrian incorrectly. He was born in 1807, in Szepesbéla. He was outstanding in several sciences like mathematics, mechanics, ballistics, optics and acoustics. The invention of fine acromatic photography lenses, the reflector, and the orthoscope made him famous, and so to appreciate his work, a crater was named after him. It has a center peak, terraced walls, resembling a peach.

Although Petzval was engaged in mathematics too, the most outstanding Hungarian mathematician of the 19th century was János Bolyai, who was born in Transylvania. He was a pioneer of mathematics in the 19th century, he was founder of the non-Euclidian geometry, and later his theory formed a base for further physical research. However, the contemporary colleagues mistreated his results, wrongfully. The Bolyai-crater might have the most interesting form of the sixteen Hungarian craters. Due to heavy erosion, its side walls are not clearly visible. The underlay has a double face because the north side contains basalt.

In chronological order, Loránd Eötvös followed Bolyai. Eötvös was teaching physics at the beginning of his career at the Pázmány Péter University, which is named Eötvös Loránd University today. Later he became the leader of the Institute of Experimental Physics, and afterwards he was elected the president of Hungarian Academy of Sciences for 16 years. In 1894, he was a minister leading the Ministry of Religion and Public Education. During his csintific carreer he discovered the Eötvös-law describing the surface-tension of liquids, and he started to examine the local anomalies of the gravitational field. For this he designed various tools which are still in use today, for example the Eötvös-pendulum. The Eötvös-effect is also named after him; this is an important evidence supporting the fact that the Earth rotates. The name of Eötvös can also be found on the Moon, the form named after him is a heavily eroded crater with a basaltic base, only its northwestern wall remains intact.

One of the first Hungarian Nobel-prize laureates, Richárd Zsigmondy, was contemporary with Eötvös. In spite of his Hungarian origin he considered himself Austrian as he was living mostly in Vienna. Zsigmondy is the third Hungary-related Nobel-prize laureate; he was a dominant researcher in colloid-chemistry. He was working with the associates of the famous Zeiss factory, later in 1925, for finding evidence on the double nature of colloid solutions and for inventing the ultramicroscope he received the Nobel-prize. Astronomers honour him by giving the name Zsigmondy to a crater. This crater has a central peak, and its wall is very steep on its northern rim. Its original structure is disturbed by later impacts on several places.

Five years after the Trianon treaty the storm of wars and politics of the 20th century has changed everyday life as much as science in Hungary. The next scientist, György Békésy, is one of the first of our researchers who has left the country, and made a career abroad.

Békésy was also awarded a Nobel-prize, in 1961. Despite the fact that according to his university degree he was a physicist, he received the prize in the field of medical research, honouring his results in elucidating the functioning of the human ear. He started his career in Hungary, but later he went teaching to Harvard and the University of Hawaii. The name of our 6th Nobel-prize laureate is also on the Moon as Békésy-crater. The western wall of the crater is heavily eroded, while its eastern wall was modified by later impact forms.

Tódor Kármán was also a physicist, and had been successful in other sciences. Kármán was the first to receive the National Medal in Science from President Kennedy in 1963. During the World War, he got famous for taking part in the invention of the first helicopter, later because of National Socialism he traveled to America. He continued to work in the field of aeronautics; he was a pioneer in the supersonic flight, and participated in the invention of the first American rockets. He founded the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which is today one of the most important organizations of NASA: new space-satellites are developed here. With this and other achievements, he counts as one of the most famous Hungarian-originated professional scientists. The crater named after him (which is the biggest in our list with its 210 km diameter) has a central peak, and after it was formed, it was filled with lava. Its northern wall was heavily damaged and destroyed when the Leibnitz-crater was born. The Kármán-crater is also one of the potential landing sites of Team Puli.

2. picture: Helicopter designed by Kármán

Apart from Kármán, Imre Izsák, engineer also wrote his name into the history book of space science. He was mostly involved in the calculation of satellite and rocket trajectories. With these calculations he corrected the main models describing the shape of Earth and global positioning, founding the basis of the GPS technique. He taught on various US universities and held high positions at NASA. It is therefore no surprise that his name can also be found on the Moon, in the form of a crater with a central peak, and steep, high walls.

Contemporary to Kármán and Izsák, János Neumann also became a famous researcher after leaving Hungary in the 1930s. He was interested in a wide field of natural sciences, as well as economy. His name is mostly associated with the invention of the first computers, but the road leading here is less well known. As many top scientists in his time, he also took part in the American nuclear program. Upon studying the results obtained from experimental explosions he was suddenly facing very complex calculations, so he came to idea: there would be need for machines which are capable of doing simple calulations fast. Apart from this he was also working on set theory, logical theories, quantummechanics, economy but even politics. The IAU lists him as an American, namesake of yet another Moon crater. The Neumann crater has steep walls with a terraced layout a small peak in the middle and an unusally lagre amount of debris in the crater.

The American nuclear program gave work to many other Hungarian born scientists apart from Neumann, such as Leó Szilárd. He was involved in project Manhattan from the start, the aim of which was to create the first nuclear bomb. Szilárd studied the atomic structure of matter, and discovered and proved the theory of chain reaction. He was working with the most renowned scientists of his time: with Fermi he created the first nuclear pile while with Einstein they managed to solve important problems of electromagnetic properties of liquid metals. Even though he greatly contributed to the development of nuclear technology, in the early years of the cold war he was campaigning against the use of nuclear weapons. Leó Szilárd also has a crater nemd after him on the Moon, the structure is greatly eroded, mostly due to the various other impacts deforming the original crater.


3. picture: The discussion of Szilárd and Einstein

Contrary to most people above, Péter Hédervári earned the honour with his educational carreer rather than scientific discoveries. Hédervári was a geologist by trade. His main works mostly deal with the Moon: Physics of the Moon (1962), and Conquering the Moon (1970). The memory of him therefore also earned a place on the lunar maps, his crater is near the south pole of the Moon.

This long list shows that many famous Hungarian researchers have lived throughpr the ages of whom we can always look up to. It must be noted though that numerous great minds were newer awarded a place on our celestial companion. These include other Hungarian Nobel laureates and people like Ferenc Pavlics, designer of the moon buggies used by the Apollo astronauts. Still many feel proud and inspired by knowing that looking up at Earth’s comanion Hungarians are there.


Original Hungarian version by Tamás Látos

Translation by Tamás Katona and Máté Ravasz

Last Updated (Saturday, 30 October 2010 17:01)


Miklós Lovas and the impact of Luna-2

In 1959, as a tiny metallic ball approached the Moon, a young assistant observer of the Konkoly Observatory in Budapest peered through the telescope. The face of the full Moon shone brightly in the eyepiece – but suddenly, against all odds, a tiny black speck appeared, announcing another Soviet first in the Space Race: the Luna-2 probe successfully reached another heavenly body.

The young assistant was Miklós Lovas who worked in the Konkoly Observatory for many more decades. From the sixties, long before the automatized, large-scale programs, Konkoly was part of an international effort to discover statistically useful amounts of supernovae. Miklós, a keen-eyed observer detected dozens of events of stellar fury using the Schmidt telescope at the newly built Piszkéstető Mountain Station, making the observatory the fifth successful in the world. Incidentally but thankfully to this work, he also discovered five comets, two of which (93P/Lovas-1 and 184P/Lovas-2) are the only short-period comets bearing Hungarian names. Miklós, now retired, told me about the night of Luna-2.

(c) Lovas Miklós Lovas: “We were down at the city during the day. We were walking back to the hill at the evening as there were no buses back then (just the cogwheel railway) and I found a man lingering in the garden of the observatory. He introduced himself as a journalist from MTI (the Hungarian press agency), and wanted to find somebody who can show him the impact of Luna-2 because TASS (the Soviet press agency) had announced that a space probe was heading to the Moon and would hit it on the evening of 12th September, 1959. We told him that it was pointless to search for such a small impact against the light of the full Moon and suggested him to discuss it with the director (László Detre). But the journalist kept on pushing and insisting and finally Detre said “just go out and watch it, why not”. We were joined at the telescope by Júlia Balázs, the wife of Detre and Béla Balázs(1). The Soviets had only provided the time so I had to fit an eyepiece that allowed to see the whole face of the Moon, I think even they didn't know where will it hit.

We knew of course that the velocity of the probe was huge. So, while the detection of the impact itself was impossible, it was plausible that the impact would generate a dust cloud. It turned out later that the impact location is covered with quite deep layers of dust.

We waited, took shifts at the eyepiece. I was at the telescope when, all of a sudden, a dark speck appeared. Júlia and Béla confirmed, they saw it too. The phenomenon lasted for about twenty minutes. It expanded and faded slowly, an expanding patch, like in the drawings. At first it was quite dark but it turned to gray and was much fainter towards the end.


from Mitteilungen Nr. 45 (c) Konkoly Obs.


The Soviets calculated that rocket stage impacted the Moon about half an hour later too. Did you notice anything?

No. We weren't really looking by that time because the news didn't mentioned anything. Maybe it was announced later but we did not know about it then. Afterwards we discussed of course that others had evidently observed it and how would the results be compared and the work continued. But we instead heard the Hungarian radio shouting “The impact of the Soviet Moon probe was seen from Budapest!” The turmoil lasted for a couple of days, the next day my skin was photographed off my face. We were at MTI too, along with Iván Almár, and we retold the story there too, as things like this happen

What about the Soviets?

They didn't see it! The Soviets objected most strongly, interestingly, claiming that we couldn't possibly see anything. They protested badly, maybe they were ashamed that no Soviet observers succeeded, but it really made no sense to us. Anyway, despite the objections, they have referred to our location of Palus Putredinis (Marsh of Decay) in their databases since.

Which telescope did you use? The Nature article lists a 7 inch one.

We used the guide scope of the 24 inch main reflector mostly. Béla Balázs tried another telescope but returned after a while claiming he had not seen anything there. That was still before the impact, actually, so he saw the event with us. I guess he got bored waiting alone. That telescope he used does not exist anymore, by the way. It was an old telescope from the Konkoly heritage (the founder of the observatory), an astrograph with an about 40 cm wide objective and 3 m focal length, designed to take photographs and was used to observe variable stars. I worked with that too.

The Luna-2 spaceprobe. Image by NASAAnd Luna-2 was the first of it's kind with these observations? Or were there information about the Luna-1 too?

Yes, it was, the Luna-1 missed the Moon as I remember. Space research was almost only a dream, the term just started to develop. We thought, just as others did that we hit the bulls-eye this time, would miss it the next time. When we got back to the main building, Detre was quite skeptical of our observations and said oh come on, it surely was nothing. That was possible, but we did see something we answered. He was finally convinced when the Hungarian radio broadcasted the impact time eight minutes before the Soviet radio from Moscow did...”

The observations were later published by Detre in the periodical of the observatory: “Bericht über optische Beobachtungen anlässlich der Landung der sowjetischen Mondrakete Lunik II”, Mitteilungen der Sternwarte Budapest-Svábhegy Nr. 45 (3). The first detection of the speck (21:02:30 UT) agreed well with the termination of the radio signal of the probe (21:02:24 UT). The few seconds difference can be accounted to the initial expansion of the dust cloud to observable size. The 2nd January 1960 edition of Nature (vol. 185) listed the positive observations. Among others, the British amateur astronomer legend Patrick Moore observed the Moon too and saw a momentary pinpoint of light about the same time, but at somewhat different location. Other methods such as radio interferometry from the Soviet Union, tracking with the Jodrell Bank radio telescope and the rocket's calculated ballistic trajectory agree best with the Konkoly observations. Photographic efforts at Pic du Midi and other places failed to record the dust cloud.

Official sources, like NASA's National Space Science Data Center lists Palus Putredinis as the impact location, according to the observations of Lovas and his colleagues. The eagle eyes of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter may find the needle in the haystack eventually – a small, young crater, representing the achievements of the once powerful hammer and sickle.


from Mitteilungen Nr. 45 (c) Konkoly Obs.


1. Júlia Balázs, wife of László Detre was an astronomer herself but was not a relative of the Balázs brothers, Béla and Lajos who are accomplished astronomers as well.

2. The 24-inch Heyde-Zeiss telescope was the original main instrument of the observatory: http://konkoly.hu/24

3. http://www.konkoly.hu/Mitteilungen/45.html


By László Molnár

Image 1: courtesy of Miklós Lovas
Images 2 and 4: from Mitteilungen Nr. 45, courtesy of Miklós Lovas, © Konkoly Observatory
Image 3: NASA public domain

Last Updated (Sunday, 05 September 2010 15:49)

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