Can you see the American flag on the moon? Yes!
I got up at 2:30 and casually surveyed the sky while poking around with the telescope till 4. Total meteor count: 0 Delta Aquarids and 2 unrelated meteors. Maybe tomorrow will be better. Sharing the 50-degree temperatures with the...
I got up at 2:30 and casually surveyed the sky while poking around with the telescope till 4. Total meteor count: 0 Delta Aquarids and 2 unrelated meteors. Maybe tomorrow will be better.
Sharing the 50-degree temperatures with the crickets and katydids that inhabit the dewy grass was pleasant enough. Venus and Jupiter along with the Hyades and Seven Sisters star clusters totally jazzed up the eastern sky, and at 4:06 a.m. the space station breezed by. I hunted for the Progress cargo ship along, ahead of and behind the station but never saw it. Did you have better luck?
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) keeps on giving. Flying only 31 miles high above the moon's surface it snapped a set of newly-released photos of the Apollo landing sites that plainly show the U.S. flags planted by the astronauts.
One of the most common questions asked by the public when we're looking at the moon through a telescope is why we can't we see the American flags or any other sign of Apollo with the Hubble Space Telescope . It IS the most powerful telescope, right? Here's the rub. The smallest possible thing Hubble can see on the moon is about 328 feet across or the length of a football field. While impressive feat of resolution, no Apollo spacecraft comes anywhere near that size. Every piece of man-made hardware is below the space telescope's resolution limit.
The trick to seeing flags and other details is not necessarily a bigger telescope; it's getting a camera in orbit close to the moon. That's what the LRO's been doing for past few years. Its cameras can record objects 1.6 feet across. Lots of things, including lunar descent modules, experiments placed there by astronauts and even their footpaths come into focus in LRO's eye. And now, the flags.
I swear I can see the contrast difference between the stripes and the dark, starry patch and even a hint of the flagpole in the Apollo 16 photo. Pretty incredible!
The only flag we probably won't ever see is the first one, planted there by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on July 20, 1969. Aldrin reported it was blown over by rocket exhaust as the astronauts left the moon to return to the orbiting command module.
Since the flags are made of nylon they won't last terribly long under the extreme conditions on the lunar surface. Strong ultraviolet light from the sun has probably already caused the colors to fade. Over a longer time, the flags will turn brittle until one day crumbling into little heaps of dust during a moonquake .
Click HERE for full resolution views of the Apollo landing sites taken by LRO.