LROC's first look at the Apollo landing sites
The imaging system on board NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) recently had its first of many opportunities to photograph the Apollo landing sites. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) imaged five of the six Apollo sites with the narrow angle cameras (NACs) between July 11 and 15, within days of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. The early images obtained by LROC, operated by Arizona State University Professor Mark Robinson, show the lunar module descent stages left behind by the departing astronauts. Their locations are made evident by their long shadows, which result from a low sun angle at the time of collection.
"In a three-day period we were able to image five of the six Apollo sites – the LROC team anxiously awaited each image," says LROC Principal Investigator Mark Robinson, professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "Of course we were very interested to get our first peek at the lunar module descent stages just for the thrill – and to see how well the cameras had come into focus."
For additional information about the LROC instrument and to view the first Apollo landing site images, visit: http://lroc.sese.asu.edu.
The orbiter's current elliptical orbit resulted in image resolutions from the NACs that were slightly different for each site but were all about four feet per pixel. Since the deck of the descent stage is about 14 feet in diameter, the Apollo relics themselves fill about four pixels. However, because the Sun was low to the horizon when the images were acquired, even subtle variations in topography create long shadows. Standing just over ten feet above the surface, each Apollo descent stage creates a distinct shadow that fills roughly 20 pixels.
"For the five landing site images photographed by LROC, the biggest variables are spacecraft altitude (ground scale) and time of day, which translates into signal strength," explains Robinson. "In the current collection of images the best discrimination of features is in the Apollo 14 scene even though the highest resolution picture covers the Apollo 16 site."
Compared to the other landing site images, the image of the Apollo 14 site revealed additional details. The Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP), a set of scientific instruments placed by the astronauts at the landing site, is discernable, as are the faint trails between the descent stage and ALSEP left by the astronauts' footprints.
Though it had been expected that LRO would be able to resolve the remnants of the Apollo missions, these first images came prior to the spacecraft reaching its final mapping orbit. As the orbit of LRO is lowered, LROC will receive many more opportunities to image the landing sites in the weeks to come. The resolution of future LROC images of these sites will improve by two to three times.
The timing of these images being captured is notable as it occurred only days before the 40-year anniversary of NASA's Apollo 11 mission that first put humans on the moon. Though these pictures provide a reminder of one of humankind's greatest technological achievements, LRO's primary focus is paving the way for future exploration. By returning detailed lunar data the LRO mission will help NASA identify safe and compelling landing sites for future explorers, locate potential resources, describe the moon's radiation environment and demonstrate new technologies.
Source: Arizona State University
- NASA orbiter offers images of moon landing sitesfrom LA Times - ScienceFri, 17 Jul 2009, 22:35:06 EDT
- Aldrin reflects on first moon landingfrom AP ScienceFri, 17 Jul 2009, 20:21:17 EDT
- NASA unveils aerial views of Apollo landing sitesfrom Physics WorldFri, 17 Jul 2009, 17:49:08 EDT
- Buzz Aldrin: Put Humans on Mars By 2031from Space.comFri, 17 Jul 2009, 16:14:06 EDT
- Orbiter returns images of moon landingfrom UPIFri, 17 Jul 2009, 16:07:10 EDT
- Take Your Own Apollo 11 Flight (In A Video Game, Anyway)from Scientific BloggingFri, 17 Jul 2009, 15:07:27 EDT
- Moon memorabilia go under the hammerfrom The Guardian - ScienceFri, 17 Jul 2009, 14:42:56 EDT
- Why look back to Apollo when we've done so much since?from The Guardian - ScienceFri, 17 Jul 2009, 14:42:50 EDT
- Apollo Landing Sites Photographedfrom Science @ NASAFri, 17 Jul 2009, 14:28:07 EDT
- New Photos Reveal Apollo 11 at First Moon Landing Sitefrom Live ScienceFri, 17 Jul 2009, 14:14:04 EDT
- LROC's first look at the Apollo landing sitesfrom Science BlogFri, 17 Jul 2009, 13:49:06 EDT
- LROC's first look at the Apollo landing sitesfrom PhysorgFri, 17 Jul 2009, 13:35:15 EDT
- New Photos Reveal Apollo 11 at First Moon Landing Sitefrom Space.comFri, 17 Jul 2009, 13:14:04 EDT
- Marking 40 years since man's first walk on the moonfrom LA Times - ScienceThu, 16 Jul 2009, 23:42:20 EDT
- Buzz Aldrin, First Man (to Pee) on the Moon, Sounds Offfrom National GeographicThu, 16 Jul 2009, 20:42:20 EDT
- Video: 40th Anniversary Of Apollo 11from CBSNews - ScienceThu, 16 Jul 2009, 20:35:07 EDT
- Video: Washington Unplugged, 07.16.09from CBSNews - ScienceThu, 16 Jul 2009, 15:21:12 EDT
- The Moon Still Beckons, But Does Anyone Care?from Space.comThu, 16 Jul 2009, 8:42:11 EDT
- Apollo 11 conversations Earth didn't hear now onlinefrom Science CentricWed, 15 Jul 2009, 22:42:06 EDT
- We have liftofffrom The Guardian - ScienceWed, 15 Jul 2009, 19:14:17 EDT
Latest Science NewsletterGet the latest and most popular science news articles of the week in your Inbox! It's free!
Learn more about
Check out our next project, Biology.Net
From other science news sites
Popular science news articles
- NASA explains why June 30 will get extra second
- Genetic discovery uncovers key tool for morphine production in poppies
- Corals are already adapting to global warming, scientists say
- First species of yeti crab found in Antarctica named after British deep-sea biologist
- NASA's Hubble sees a 'behemoth' bleeding atmosphere around a warm exoplanet