NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) captured the sharpest images ever taken from space of the Apollo 12, 14 and 17 landing sites. Images show the twists and turns of the paths made when the astronauts explored the lunar surface. All three images show distinct trails left in the moon’s thin soil when the astronauts exited the lunar modules and explored on foot. In the Apollo 17 image, the foot trails, including the last path made on the moon by humans, are easily distinguished from the dual tracks left by the lunar rover, which remains parked east of the lander. According to Arizona State University researcher Mark Robinson, principal investigator for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) the new low-altitude Narrow Angle Camera images sharpen our view of the moon’s surface.
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A great example is the sharpness of the rover tracks at the Apollo 17 site. In previous images the rover tracks were visible, but now they are sharp parallel lines on the surface. The new images were taken over the course of a month-long period when the LRO spacecraft entered into a low altitude orbit that dipped to within 14 miles (22 kilometers) of the moon’s surface at times. LRO normally circles the moon at an altitude of about 31 miles (50 km) above the lunar surface. As the spacecraft zeroed in on the three Apollo landing sites, the probe was also able to collect valuable observations using its other instruments. In mid-December, LRO will shift into an elliptical orbit with its lowest altitude at 19 miles (30 km) over the south pole, and its highest point at 124 miles (200 km) over the north pole.