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Man On the Moon: Part 1

Amateur astronomers may be casting their telescopes towards a ‘new’ object in the sky this week (supernova PTF11kly actually occurred around 21 million years ago), but space enthusiasts have also been paying attention to new images of an astronomical body that is closer to home. Much closer to home, in fact.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which has been orbiting Earth’s moon since 2009, recently descended from an orbital height of 50km to 21km in places. In its travels it passed over several of the Apollo moon landing sites, returning the most detailed imagery to date outside of the missions themselves.

The landing sites for Apollo 12, 14 and 17 have been brought into sharper focus, with topographical images displaying buggy tracks, footpaths and discarded equipment. Due to the Moon’s lack of atmosphere, none of the landing sites have been disturbed despite the missions occurring between 1969 and 1972.

Because the Moon is normally a very low contrast environment, NASA’s images were taken while the Sun was close to the horizon, allowing for increased contrast through shadow detail.

At the end of astronaut Alan Shepard’s moonwalk during Apollo 14, he was filmed striking two golf balls far across the Moon’s surface. Perhaps a future mission will locate the actual golf balls, but for now it is at least possible to see where he stood.

Image credit: NASA/Goddard/ASU

Watch Man on the Moon Part 1 to find out more the history of the Moon.