A NASA spacecraft has snapped the clearest views ever of the surface of the moon, down to the tire tracks and footprints left by visiting astronauts decades ago in the lunar soil.
A trio of razor-sharp images relayed by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) show precise new detail of moon landing sites for the Apollo 12, 14 and 17 space missions of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The Astronomical Research Center (A.R.C) mentioned that The images even reveal the twists and turns in tire tracks when astronauts who explored the moon using the dune buggy-like lunar rover changed their direction while driving the vehicle.
"We can retrace the astronauts' steps with greater clarity to see where they took lunar samples," said Noah Petro, a lunar geologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
The images also show distinct trails in the moon's thin soil when the astronauts exited the lunar modules and explored on foot.
And in one image from the Apollo 17 mission, it is possible to discern foot traces, including the last path made on the moon by humans.
NASA said the stunning new visuals are possible because of changes to the orbit of the low-altitude narrow angle camera that took the photos, allowing them to be taken from a distance of about 13 miles (21 kilometers).
"We made the orbit more elliptical, so the lowest part of the orbit is on the sunlit side of the moon," said John Keller, deputy LRO project scientist.
"This put LRO in a perfect position to take these new pictures of the surface."
The US space agency, which has seen its budget cut in lean economic times, said in a statement that the images provide a vivid example of why space exploration is so vital and and so worthy of advancing.
"These images remind us of our fantastic Apollo history and beckon us to continue to move forward in exploration of our solar system," said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA headquarters in Washington.