See Neil Armstrong’s crater on the moon

A closeup view from orbit shows the pair of 18.5 mile-diameter craters Ritter and Sabine which are easily visible in a small telescope. They’ll help to guide you to the three smaller craters named after the Apollo 11 astronauts. North is up in the photo. Click to scout around an interactive moon map. Credit: NASA

Neil Armstrong will always have a place on the moon alongside his fellow Apollo astronauts Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin. Each has a crater in their name not far from the Apollo 11 landing site in the Sea of Tranquillity. These three craters and three on the lunar farside for the crew of Apollo 8 are the only ones to my knowledge named for living  astronauts. Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders of Apollo 8 were the first the leave Earth orbit and travel around the moon.

14 other astronauts and cosmonauts who died while involved in their respective space programs have also been memorialized with craters. The most recent were seven craters named for the Space Shuttle Challenger astronauts who perished during while ascending to orbit after launch on January 28, 1986.

The astronauts who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion while returning from orbit on February 1, 2003 are remembered in a cluster of craters in the Apollo Basin on the lunar farside and in seven named peaks in the Columbia Hills on the planet Mars. This range is located in Gusev Crater where the Spirit Rover landed in 2004.

You can start with this photo to first identify one of the man in the moon’s eyes – the Sea of Tranquillity. The photo map below will help you hone in on the trio of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins. Photo: Bob King

Several years back on a clear night with little air turbulence, I trained my 10-inch telescope on the Apollo 11 landing site near the pair of medium-sized craters Ritter and Sabine. The site itself appears smooth and featureless to the eye, but Armstrong’s crater, along with his pals Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, who remained in orbit while the other two gathered rocks and set up experiments on the lunar surface, came into view at a magnification of around 200x.

All three form a neat little row with Armstrong the largest and Collins the smallest, but they’re all quite small really. Armstrong’s crater is just 2.9 miles across, Aldrin 2.1 miles and Collins 1.5 miles. The trio is located a short distance due north of the bright crater Moltke. With a 6-inch scope and steady air, you should be able to pick out all three out at high magnification starting about the time the moon is 6 days old or just before 1st quarter phase. Neil’s is the easiest to see.

Be patient. Unsteady air may cause them to waver and dissolve. If you keep your eye glued to the eyepiece, you’ll catch a few ideal moments when the trio will be tack sharp. I enjoyed the experience of seeing these “buddies for all of time” and picturing the nearby landing site.

In this tighter view, I’ve labeled Sabine, Ritter and the bright little crater Moltke along the eastern edge of the Sea of Tranquillity.  Once you’ve found your way to these craters, switch to high magnification and use the photo at the top of this blog to navigate to Armstrong and the others. Credit: Frank Barrett

Here are some photos to help you find them, too. The best time to look would be around the 6-8 day-old moon when shading and shadows will help reveal the craters’ contours, but feel free to try at any phase. Good luck in your explorations. Should you succeed, you will have taken one impressive leap for an amateur sky watcher.

How about this perspective? A view out the window of the lunar lander module looking back toward the command service module and the site where Armstrong and Aldrin would soon land. Credit: NASA

Want to learn more about Apollo 11? Read an excellent re-telling of the first lunar landing and what it was like to be there in the NASA Science News article Wide Awake in the Sea of Tranquillity.

12 thoughts on “See Neil Armstrong’s crater on the moon

  1. ASTRO BOB CAN YOU HELP ME ? I USED TO GO TO HEAVENS ABOVE TO GET MY SPACE STATION FLY OVERS, HAD INPUTED MY LONG @ LAT, HAD A USER NAME AND PASSWORD, CAN NO LONGER GET TO THE WEB SITE. HELP. HTANKS

  2. A few years ago, probably around one of the anniversaries of the Apollo 11 landing, Sky and Telescope had an article about finding Neil, Buzz, and Mike’s craters on the moon. I looked and found them, but with great difficulty – party because of the eternally turbulent atmosphere here in the Rockies, and partly because my 12.5-inch f/4 mirror was only good to about 1 wave. It’s a great light bucket.
    I had the mirror refigured a few months ago, and the improvement is striking. So thanks for this reminder about those three little craters, and I’ll give them a try next month or whenever it’s clear with a 6-day moon (or, if I stay up late, for the 6 day before new moon).
    Your search pictures are quite nice and will make the search a snap!

    • Richard,
      I wish you a calm night. That’s what it took for me to find them. I remember the night well because I felt like I was getting into the nitty-gritty of the regolith – that’s how present and real the moon seemed. You must know at least a few of those special nights. The seeing’s so good, there’s nothing between you and the stars.

      • We have had those nights, when the moon looks like a place, rather than an object. Kind of like flying over Nevada. Can you get me one of those on the 6th day to catch the Apollo 11 craters?

  3. Hi Bob, I’ve read about at least three other craters, far on the far side though, named after Borman, Lovell and Anders. They range from 21 to 31 miles in diameter.
    But I remember also, Anders was frustrated because those where not the once they chose. Instead, they had picked three at the “far side – near side” limit, so that every astronaut after them would use their names as reference craters, when coming to the far side. Nice try, but NASA naming commission didn’t like to be skipped!

  4. It seems curious that the Command Module would be below the Lander Module at all, and certainly so far below. Surely the LM went down from the CM and not up. Any thoughts?

    • Jeremy,
      I don’t know this for a fact, but it’s possible the lunar lander separated from the CSM up and away from the moon before descending. I’ll see if I can get an answer to this. In the meantime, check out these additional views of CSMs from other Apollo missions here: http://www.nasaimages.org/luna/servlet/view/all/what/Modules
      Notice that perspective comes into play (and probably the time the photo was made) as to whether the CSM is seen below or more from the side.

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