NASA spacecraft snaps mysterious 'surfboard' orbiting the moon. What is it?

A black-and-white image of a lunar orbiter traveling past the surface of the moon.
Korea's lunar orbiter Danuri as it travels past the surface of the moon. (Image credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University)

NASA's lunar orbiter has captured images of a surfboard-shaped object zooming past the moon.

The close encounter wasn't a UFO or an alien megastructure. Rather, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spotted South Korea's lunar orbiter Danuri zipping by as the two spacecraft circled the moon, NASA officials said in a statement.

Because the two spacecraft were "traveling in nearly parallel orbits," the LRO operations team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland took the opportunity to snap photos of the event, which unfolded between March 5 and 6.

LRO's camera has a very short exposure time of about 0.338 milliseconds, making the event difficult to capture. However, it still managed to get photos of Danuri, the first Korean spacecraft to enter lunar orbit, which it achieved in December 2022.

However, because of the speed difference between the two spacecraft — roughly 7,200 mph (11,500 km/h) — the resulting image makes Danuri appear to be "smeared to 10 times its size." This stretching effect causes it to resemble a flat surfboard.

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In reality, Danuri looks nothing like a surfboard; it's a box-shaped spacecraft with two solar panels attached to each side. 

Paul Byrne, an associate professor of planetary science at Washington University in St. Louis, shared some of the images on X (formerly Twitter).

"To be clear, the Danuri orbiter is not a weirdly thin load of pixels — it's a fairly normal-looking orbiter," Byrne posted. "But the terrific speeds involved mean that it's smeared on the LRO's camera detector."

It didn't take long for people to comment on how the orbiter looked eerily familiar to Silver Surfer, a fictional humanoid alien in the Marvel Universe, according to NDTV, an India-based news outlet.

Jennifer Nalewicki
Live Science Staff Writer

Jennifer Nalewicki is a Salt Lake City-based journalist whose work has been featured in The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics and more. She covers several science topics from planet Earth to paleontology and archaeology to health and culture. Prior to freelancing, Jennifer held an Editor role at Time Inc. Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin.