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Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter photographs Apollo landing sites

Apollo Landing Sites

Apollo Landing Sites. (Click to enlarge.) Image Credit: NASA / LRO

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), capable of descending as close as 31 miles (50 km) from the lunar surface, has photographed all six of the Apollo landing sites in unprecedented detail.

The sites were chosen with the goal of exploring different geological terrains on the Moon’s surface. All are located on the Moon’s near side, which faces the Earth.

Apollo 11 landed on July 20, 1969, near the Sea of Tranquility, which is comprised primarily of smooth terrain. Three craters slightly north of the landing site are named Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin after the three mission astronauts.

NAC image of the Apollo 14 landing site acquired 25 January 2011.

NAC image of the Apollo 14 landing site acquired 25 January 2011. Descent stage of lunar module Antares in center; image width is 500 meters. (Click to enlarge.) Photo Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.

Four months later, Apollo 12 set down on the Ocean of Storms, south of Copernicus Crater and just a short distance from the Surveyor 3 probe.

In February 1971, Apollo 14 landed in the Fra Mauro region. LRO captured an image (shown right) of the lunar module Antares’ descent stage in a 500-meter-wide photo.

The first mission to use a lunar rover was Apollo 15, which touched down on in Hadley Rille near the Apennine Mountain range. The rover made it possible for the astronauts to cover significantly more territory than earlier missions did.

With the goal of finding Moon rocks older than the young ones found previously in the lunar maria, Apollo 16 set down in a region of the lunar highlands known as the Cayley Formation, in April 1972.

Apollo 17, the last of the manned Moon missions, set down in the Taurus-Littrow Valley in December 1972, where the astronauts searched for primordial highland material.

In addition to showing the Antares descent state, one of the Apollo 14 images, taken with one of LRO’s two Narrow Angle Cameras (NAC), shows the tracks of the astronauts who traveled between two landmarks on the Moon’s surface.

Because the Sun is in a different position relative to the Moon each time LRO passes over the lunar surface, the cameras are able to take images from a variety of perspectives.

The positions of lunar modules and other equipment astronauts left on the Moon are well known, so the repeated capturing of images helps the LRO camera pin down accurate cartographic goals.

Neither the Hubble Space Telescope nor the most powerful telescopes on Earth are capable of imaging the objects and markings on these sites.

More information about LRO images can be found at Apollo Landing Sites Revisited.

A zoomable map created from LRO photos taken close to the lunar surface is available for viewing at ACT-REACT-QuickMap.

Video Courtesy of LROC Official


Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine’s guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.

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