WASHINGTON – A spacecraft circling the moon has snapped the sharpest photos ever of the tracks and trash left behind by Apollo astronauts in their visits from 1969 to 1972.
Images taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter from 13 to 15 miles up show the astronauts’ paths when they walked on the moon, as well as ruts left by a moon buggy. Experts could even identify the backpacks astronauts pitched out of their lunar landers before they returned to Earth.
“What we’re seeing is a trail,” said Arizona State University geology professor Mark Robinson, the orbiter’s chief scientist. “It’s totally awesome.”
However, the photos weren’t close enough to see individual bootprints, Robinson said.
The pictures were taken two weeks ago and show the landing sites for Apollo 12, 14 and 17. The closest images are of the 1972 Apollo 17 site, the last moon mission.
Two years ago, images from the same spacecraft from 30 and 60 miles out showed fuzzier images. But this year the orbiter dipped down to take about 300,000 more close-ups. The trails left by the astronauts are clear, but the places where backpacks were discarded, Apollo 17’s moon buggy, and the bottom parts of the three lunar landers are blurry.
“You have to really look at it for a long time to figure out what you’re looking at,” Robinson said.