One of the most iconic images you will ever see is that of astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and the flag of the moon. But is it still there and can you see it with a telescope? I spent some time researching (and looking through my own scope) to find out for good.
So, can a telescope see the flag on the moon? Current telescopes, even the Hubble Space Telescope, cannot see the flags on the moon due to insufficient resolution. This requires spatial resolution smaller than what’s currently technologically possible.
Interestingly, there isn’t/wasn’t ‘one flag’.
The Lunar Flag Assembly; as the kit was called, actually included 6 different flags.
All of which were deployed as part of the Apollo program.
But there is one flag that became famous in particular; likely due to those photos taken back in 1969.
Let us know take a closer look at some of those other questions you may likely have, before looking at what backyard telescopes are actually able to show us.
Why Can’t A Telescope See The Flag On The Moon
The flag on the moon is too small to be seen with telescopes from Earth. Current technology lacks the necessary spatial resolution to discern such small details on the moon’s surface from this distance.
If you want to get into the technical details, here it is:
The Moon is approximately 384,400 kilometers (238,855 miles) from Earth.
This distance, along with the size and resolution of a telescope, helps determine the smallest object size we can view, referred to as the spatial extent.
For one of our most powerful telescopes, the Hubble Space Telescope, this spatial extent is roughly 100 meters—comparable to a football field’s size.
For a domestic telescope with a 130mm aperture, it’s around 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles).
But what kind of spatial extent is required to see the flag on the moon?
For a telescope to be able to see the flag on the Moon from Earth it would require a diameter of 200 meters (which equates to roughly two football fields).
We are a football field out!
Is The Flag On The Moon Still There?
Whether or not the flag on the moon is still there, depends on what flag you are referring to.
There were actually 5 flags deployed on the moon during the Apollo Program. These were deployed across the missions Apollo 12,14,15,16, and 17.
If you are wondering what happened to Apollo 13 – that flag never got deployed. The mission was aborted due to a malfunction and was later destroyed.
But what about the fate of those deployed?
Well, photographs taken from NASA’s satellite orbiter (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter or LRO) showed that the three flags deployed during missions Apollo 12,16 and 17 were still standing as of 2012.
These photos show the shadows cast by the materials of the flag but have not been able to show the poles.
As of 2012, experts could not confirm if the flags from the Apollo 14 and Apollo 15 missions were still standing.
There is a lot of speculation across the scientific community however; some have predicted that the flags may have either changed color due to sunlight or disintegrated due to radiation altogether.
Can You See The Moon Landing Site With Telescope?
Again, no telescope can observe the moon landing sites. This is true of both backyard telescopes and the more powerful Hubble Space telescopes.
In fact, only the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LSO) and the photographs taken from the Apollo programs astronauts can show us the moon landing sites in any great detail.
For the LSO in particular, it is been able to drop to just 31 miles from the lunar surface of the moon, and has been able to show remarkable images of each landing site with great clarity.
What Can You See With A Telescope?
What you can see with a telescope is largely determined by its power. In telescope terminology, it has a lot to do with the aperture (or light gathering ability) and the quality of the optics.
In astronomy, more light is better; enabling you to observe fainter objects in the sky and those typically further away from earth.
There are generally three types of telescope available on the market:
- Small and cheap – usually costing in the $50-$175 range e.g. 70-80mm Newtonian reflector
- Mid-sized – usually costing in the $250-$600 range e.g. 150mm Newtonian reflector
- Large and expensive – usually costing in the $800+ range e.g. 300mm Newtonian reflector
It is in fact the larger telescopes that allow you to collect more light , as they hold larger, higher quality mirrors. Although these telescopes are generally more expensive and a lot less versatile due to their size.
With increased power, the more distant and fainter deep sky objects (beyond our solar system) will come into view and into remarkable focus.
That being said, even smaller and cheaper backyard telescopes will enable astronomers to see the moon, planets, nebula, and even some star clusters.
There are 8 planets that you will be able to observe, but only three will show any distinct surface details (Mars, Saturn and Jupiter).
Of course there are other factors involved with what you will be able to see
The observing location (darkness), atmospheric conditions and even the experience of the observer and how they can use their telescope.
The flag(s) of the moon cannot unfortunately be seen with a telescope.
If you are considering getting a telescope do not let this put you off!
There is still plenty to see and some fascinating objects to observe. Especially the moon, which is perfectly safe to observe for the most part by the way.
Of course, some telescopes are better than others, so if you are really serious about your astronomy it makes sense to invest in the best piece of equipment that you can realsitcally afford.
My best telescopes for viewing planets and galaxies guide is perhaps the best place to start.
But otherwise, do your research and due diligence; your scope will last you for several years and there is nothing worse that knowing you need to later upgrade should you get your decision wrong!
Hey, my name is Chris. I’m a passionate and seasoned astronomer who loves nothing more than observing the night sky. I also love researching, learning, and writing all things Space and the Universe. I created Astronomy Scope to share my knowledge, experience, suggestions, and recommendations of what I have learned along the way while helping anyone to get into and maximize their enjoyment of the hobby.