"Hey, can you see the flag on the Moon with that thing?"
For the last 40 years, every amateur astronomer with a big telescope has heard this countless times. My standard response, ever since I was a teenager, has always been:
"No, telescopes on the ground mostly can't see anything smaller than a mile across on the Moon. The flag is just a couple feet across. The Apollo landing stages are still there, but they're only a few yards across."
Fact is, not even the Hubble telescope or lunar orbiters have had optics good enough to see anything that humans left on the Moon.
Until now. On June 18th NASA launched its new Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), designed in part to scout future landing sites. It worked its way down into low lunar orbit and has started taking pictures with both its wide-angle and narrow-angle cameras. The latter are designed to achieve a pixel resolution of 1 meter (3 feet) on the ground.
Naturally enough, some early targets for the Narrow Angle Cameras have been the various Apollo landing sites. In time for next Monday's 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, NASA released pictures today. Browse and enjoy.