New Photos Show Tracks from Apollo Landings Decades Ago

BY Jenny Marder  September 7, 2011 at 4:27 PM EDT

The twists and turns of the last tracks left by humans on the moon mark the moon’s surface in this image of the Apollo 17 site. Photo by NASA/Goddard/ASU.

New images show the sharpest pictures yet of lunar rover tracks and human footprints crisscrossing the thin soil at the surface of the moon from the Apollo 12, 14 and 17 landings. These include the last tracks made on the moon by Apollo 17 astronauts in 1972. Both the dual rover tracks and the footprints are clearly visible in the images, which were captured and beamed back by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter (LRO).

“We can retrace the astronauts’ steps with greater clarity to see where they took lunar samples,” Noah Petro, a lunar geologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md told NASA. Petro is a member of the LRO project science team.

Adjustments to the orbiter’s elliptical orbit that lowered it from its usual 31 miles altitude relative to the moon’s surface to one that dipped as low as 13 miles allowed for the higher quality images.

“Without changing the average altitude, we made the orbit more elliptical, so the lowest part of the orbit is on the sunlit side of the moon,” said Goddard’s John Keller, deputy LRO project scientist. “This put LRO in a perfect position to take these new pictures of the surface.”