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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

LRO zooms in on Apollo 15 once again

By Phil Plait

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been circling our nearest neighbor since 2009, taking amazing high-resolution images of the Moon's surface. When it was first proposed, I remember wondering if it would get good shots of the Apollo sites... and boy howdy, did it. Then, in 2011, NASA decided to lower the mapping orbit from its usual 50 km (30 miles) down to an incredible 25 km (15 miles) -- an orbit they can't sustain, since variations in the density of the Moon would soon crash the spacecraft. But for those short periods, they got amazing images of the Apollo landing sites, including this stunner from Apollo 15:

[Click to onesmallstepenate.]

LRO has looked at the Apollo 15 site before (see the links at the LRO page for more), but never this clearly! The lander descent stage is labeled (the ascent stage took Dave Scott and James Irwin back up to the Command Module, which then brought them home), and is pretty clear (the shadow's cool too). To the upper left is the ALSEP (Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package, containing scientific instruments), and the the right is the rover (LRV). And connecting them all, you can clearly see the astronauts' bootprints! Arrows point out the fainter ones.

[Cripes, the news is coming so fast I can hardly keep up: in between writing this post and putting it up, the folks at LRO released an image from the Apollo 11 landing site too, and it's also just flippin' amazing.]

That's not the first time we've seen those boot tracks, but still. It gives me chills: human beings walked on the Moon.

And we'll do it again, I just know it. Soon, I hope. But it will happen.

Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

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