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Take only pictures, leave only footprints on the moon

September 7, 2011 |  5:21 pm

Moon_photos

Talk about making a lasting impression: NASA has just released photos that show in never-before-seen detail traces of human activity on the moon -- including  the tracks of a moon rover and the footprints of astronauts from as far back as 40 years ago.

The images were taken by a NASA orbiter and show the Apollo 12, 14 and 17 landing sites. In a video released by NASA, research scientist Noah Petro explained that the images were taken with an instrument called the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera. The camera has been orbiting the moon about 31 miles above its surface, but scientists were able to adjust the orbit so that the camera temporarily dipped down as low as 13 miles.

Petro described the images as "jaw-dropping."

"At the Apollo landing site we can see where the lunar rover parked on the surface," he said. "We can see where it drove around the lunar module, you can see the areas where the astronauts kicked up the dust when they walked around."

Mark Robinson, an Arizona State University researcher and the principal investigator for the camera program, was equally as excited. "A great example is the sharpness of the rover tracks at the Apollo 17 site," he said in a statement. "In previous images the rover tracks were visible, but now they are sharp parallel lines in the surface."

There's something simultaneously brand-new and nostalgic about these images, which also show metal instruments left by astronauts after using them to do experiments on the moon's surface.

But scientists say that just because the footprints and rover tracks have stayed essentially intact for 40 years, it does not mean that they will remain forever.

"In human terms, it may seem like forever, but in geologic terms, probably there will be no traces of the Apollo exploration in, let's say, 10 to 100 million years," Robinson said in a news conference.

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Supernova reaches peak brightness; grab your binoculars and look up!

-- Deborah Netburn

Image: A newly released image of the landing site of Apollo 17, the last moon mission. Credit: Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University

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