45th Anniversary of First Men on the Moon: Spot Apollo Landing Sites

Astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin poses with lunar experiments during the Apollo 11 mission. Credit: NASA

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.

This illustration of the full disk of the moon shows the location of each Apollo landing site as seen through binoculars.  Credit: NASA
Red dots identify the location of each Apollo landing site as seen through binoculars. Credit: NASA

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.

This skychart shows the position and waning crescent phase of the moon in the early dawn sky of July 20,2014. Tot helower left of the moon willbe two of Earth's other neighboring worlds, Venus and Mercury very low to the eastern horizon. Credit: SkySafari
This sky chart shows the moon’s position in the early dawn sky of July 20, 2014. Venus and Mercury appear to the lower left of the moon, very low on the eastern horizon. Credit: SkySafari

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!

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Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.