In reading this question (Lowest possible lunar orbit and has any spacecraft achieved it?), it prompts the question if any orbiting satellite/spacecraft around the Moon or Mars (the only heavenly bodies other than Earth which have both orbiting spacecraft and intact landings) have been confirmed observed while in orbit by an astronaut or probe on the surface of that body? Pictures of landed craft taken from orbit are well documented, but I'm wondering if the opposite has ever been officially observed by seeing the glint of sunlight off of an orbiting craft.

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    $\begingroup$ Are you asking specifically about artificial satellites? Because Curiosity has taken pictures of Phobos and Deimos before. $\endgroup$
    – Phiteros
    Feb 22, 2021 at 21:33
  • $\begingroup$ seems to be artificial, based on the last sentence "...by seeing the glint of sunlight off of an orbiting craft." $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Feb 23, 2021 at 3:13
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    $\begingroup$ related: Were the Apollo 11 astronauts aware of any parts of the Luna 15 mission? and Would Luna 15 have been visible to any of the members of the Apollo 11 crew? I'm not sure if anybody has asked if an Apollo astronaut has ever seen an orbiting command module, since they could have accurate timing and direction information ahead of time and could have stood in the shadow with their eyes closed and dark-adapted. I'll guess the answer is no because what's the point? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Feb 23, 2021 at 3:14

1 Answer 1


It's hard to prove a negative, but I do believe this has not been done.


  • Soviet Mars and US Viking probes were not capable of this, and had few targets.
  • The pathfinder cameras do not seem particularly suited for this.
  • I'm not aware of such an attempt being done with Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity or Perseverance rovers. This is however the best chance as Martian rovers have taken picture of Phobos and Deimos. They may be capable of seeing a satellite flare.
  • No such observation in the limited amount of Tianwen-1 material available.


  • US Surveyor and Soviet Luna landers seem far from capable of taking such images.
  • Having read all the Apollo transcripts, observing the command module from the lunar surface was not attempted.
  • No such images from what I have seen released from Chang'e 3, 4 and 5.
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    $\begingroup$ Agreed. However, I would like to point out that the camera doesn't need to be capable of resolving the satellite to "see" it. In almost all astronomical cases stars take up far less than one pixel so all we actually see is a single point of light. I don't have the information to hand on exactly what the sensitivities of the various cameras and the all the information you would need on the various spacecraft. However, just because the cameras cannot resolve the spacecraft doesn't necessarily mean they can't see them. $\endgroup$
    – Pioneer_11
    Feb 6, 2023 at 3:32

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