On July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 mission delivered astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the moon. This Sunday marks the 45th anniversary of the first time people landed on our lunar neighbor. (See “First Explorers On The Moon.”)
With the aid of binoculars, you will be able to see some of the Apollo landing sites. However, since the moon will be in its waning crescent phase, you won’t be able to see the exact Apollo 11 landing site. But two other Apollo sites—12 and 14—will be visible.
The moon is gravitationally locked to Earth, meaning we always see the same side of the lunar orb. Therefore, familiarizing yourself with the major landmarks across its face is fairly easy. The scattered dark patches—called maria or seas—dotting the moon’s face were once thought to be actual oceans filled with water and life. They are in fact gigantic crater basins formed over three billion years ago, when mountain-size rocks smashed into the ancient moon, causing liquefied rock to bubble up and ooze out to harden into the smooth, dark areas we see today.
It is on the edge of one of these maria, called the Sea of Tranquility, where humans first landed on the moon. Apollo 11 and the five other landing sites are all easily found scattered across the lunar face.
Don’t expect to see equipment left by the Apollo astronauts or their footprints, though. For that you would need NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which flies just above the surface of the moon.
We will have to wait until August 10 for the next full moon phase in order to see all six Apollo landing sites, including the iconic Apollo 11 site. But if you’re looking for some moon maps to get the full lunar experience, then check out Google’s zoomable version or the Lunar Society’s interactive photo atlas.
If clouds block your view of the moon this Sunday, or if you want to tour the moon through a telescope—at least virtually—then the astronomy outreach venture Slooh will provide a good way to mark this anniversary. It will broadcast a special program via live feed from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
The fun starts Sunday, July 20, at 5:30 p.m. PDT/8:30 p.m. EDT/00:30 UTC (7/21). For international times, go to http://goo.gl/pUHQih.
Enjoy your lunar holiday!