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New photos of the Apollo moon landing sites were released today (Sept. 6), showing extraordinary new details about the areas on the lunar surface visited by humans, including tracks left by the astronauts and their lunar rovers.
In one image of the Apollo 17 landing site, the last tracks left by astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt on the moon are visible. The crisscrossing footprints can be easily distinguished from the tracks left by the astronauts' lunar rover. [See the new photos of the Apollo moon landing sites]
The images were taken by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a robotic probe in orbit around the moon. The new views also mark only the second time that high-resolution pictures of the landing sites have been snapped by an unmanned spacecraft around the moon.
The new batch of images released today represent three different lunar landing sites: Apollo 12, Apollo 14 and Apollo 17. Scientists and historians alike are hoping they will help solve some unanswered questions from the Apollo missions, such as whether the planted American flags are still standing.
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been in orbit around the moon since June 2009. The $504 million car-sized spacecraft first captured close-up images of the Apollo landing sites in July 2009, which revealed new details about the sites and even spotted hardware that was left behind on the lunar surface.
The LRO probe is currently on an extended mission through at least September 2012.
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