Exposing PseudoAstronomy

July 31, 2009

What Is Science, Its Purpose, and Its Method?


Introduction

Following up on my post “Terminology: What Scientists Mean by “Fact,” “Hypothesis,” “Theory,” and “Law”,” as well as a recent planetarium lecture I gave on young-Earth creationism in astronomy, I thought it would be a valuable post to go over specifically what the purpose of science actually is, and how science goes about, well, science.

I need to make three things very clear up-front: First, I am not a philosopher. I have not taken any philosophy classes, nor have I taken a philosophy of science class (though I think I probably should).

Second, even though “science” is an inactive noun – where I use the word “inactive” to mean that it is a process and a mode of thinking – I will be using it throughout this post as an “active” noun, personifying it to actually “do” things. This is how it’s used in popular culture, and I see no real reason to take efforts to not go with the colloquial use in this posting.

Third, this post is going to serve a dual purpose by contrasting the scientific method with the creationist “method” in order to show how science differs in key, important ways.

Dictionary Definitions of Terms

The way the dictionary that Apple kindly provides on their computers defines “science” as: “The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” There are three sub-definitions, but that main one emphasizes that “science” is an activity, a study, and one that looks for natural explanations.

My only qualm with this definition is that I would add to it not only what it does or how it operates, but its purpose, as well: “The purpose of science is that once it has provided an explanation for the physical and natural world, it allows one to use that explanation to make predictions.” I know that when I stand on one foot, if I don’t shift my weight to that one foot, I will likely fall if I do not support myself. That is because I have repeated observations that tell me this. Without that predictive power that in the future I will fall if I don’t shift my weight, then all those previous observations are fairly worthless.

In this section, I also want to define “dogma.” Using the dictionary again: “A principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.”

Now, hopefully I’m stating the obvious, but “dogma” and “science” are not equivalent. In fact, I know that I’m not stating the obvious because there are many, many, many people out there who believe that science simply leads to dogmatic facts/ideas/theories, etc. This is not true. And in the rest of this post I will show you why.

A Look at the Creationist “Science” Method

Before I say anything else, I want to emphasize that this is not a straw man argument, an exaggeration, or anything else that may lead to you thinking this is not true. This section is really how many – if not most or all – biblical literalists view science, and this is how they decide what science to incorporate into their worldview.

Ken Ham, the CEO of the “Answers in Genesis” (a young-Earth creationist think-tank in the US, now separate from the Australian group by the same name), has explicitly stated that one must start with the Bible, while others at AiG have stated that even logic and science itself flows from the Bible, for without it, you couldn’t even have the tools that science uses.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at a flow chart:

Flow Cart Showing the Scientific Method

Flow Chart Showing Faith-Based 'Science'

The above flow chart shows the basic, fundamental process that most biblical literalists use to vet science. They may get an idea, or hear of something. Let’s use a young-Earth creationist mainstay, Earth’s magnetic field. Data shows that Earth’s field has gone through reversals in polarity at many points in the past. The data is clearly out there for anyone to examine, and it is unambiguous that crustal rocks record a flip-flopping magnetic field.

Now, does it fit in the Bible? Creationists such as Kent Hovind say that it does not. The result is that alternating magnetic fields are simply not possible. In fact, to quote him: “That’s simply baloney [that there are magnetic reversals in the rocks]. There are no ‘reversed polarity areas’ unless it’s where rocks flipped over when the fountains of the deep broke open. … This is a lie talking about magnetic ‘reversals.’” (Taken from his Creation Science Evangelism series, DVD 6:1.)

Alternatively, Russell Humphreys, of Answers in Genesis, accepts that there have been magnetic reversals, as he is able to fit it into a reading of the Bible. He explains the field reversals as rapidly taking place during the 40 24-hr days of Noah’s Flood. Hence, because they are able to fit it into the Bible, they accept it as a dogma.

A Look at the Scientific Method

You’ll notice that this flow chart is a tad larger:

Flow Cart Showing the Scientific Method

Flow Cart Showing the Scientific Method

It starts at the same place, with an idea/observation/etc., which we call a “hypothesis.” As opposed to testing this hypothesis against the Bible, it is tested by performing an experiment. In other words, can the idea that you have accurately predict the outcome of an experiment?

If not, then the idea is rejected. If it did accurately predict the outcome of the experiment, then ideally you will do several more and gather other observational evidence, but effectively you now have created a theory. A theory is when all pieces of evidence support that idea, and NO experiment has refuted it.

The next step of a theory is to use it to predict a future event. This is where my definition of science differs from the dictionary by adding these predictive properties (the bottom half of the flow chart). Without the theory of gravity being able to predict the motions of the planets and moons, the behavior of tides, etc., then what good is it other than to have on paper and look pretty?

So the theory is used to predict a future event. If it predicted it correctly, then you simply rinse and repeat. Much of basic scientific research is really just testing theories. Far from being the “dogma” that many creationists will want you to believe, theories are subjected to tests every day.

In fact, scientists WANT to be the one to do the experiment that the theory predicted a different outcome for. That’s where we follow the “NO” arrow on the flow chart. If the theory can be modified to support the latest evidence, then it is improved, and you go back and continue to test the now-modified theory. An example of this would be the addition of Inflation to the Big Bang model.

However, if the theory cannot be modified to support the latest evidence, then we have a scientific revolution. People remember your name. You get Nobel Prizes. And money. And women (or men). Anyone over the age of 10 knows Einstein’s name and know him to be synonymous with “Relativity” and likely even “E=m·c2.” Advertisers wish they could be that efficient.

Final Thoughts – What’s the Point, and Why No Spiritualism/Paranormal Allowed?

The point here is that, well, I’m honestly sick of hearing the anti-”darwinist” crowd claiming that evolution, the speed of light, the Big Bang, and many other scientific theories are just a “materialistic dogma.” They’re not. Plain and simple. Dogma is where you believe something as FACT and it cannot be shown to be false, regardless of any evidence. Theories and the scientific method is a process that requires evidence to support it, and no evidence to the contrary. It requires predictive power.

And that is why spiritualism/religion/supernatural/paranormal beliefs are simply not allowed in science. Sorry, they’re not. Why? Because almost by their very definition, they lack any predictive ability. If you can’t use your hypothesis or theory to predict a future event, then they have just been shown not to work. Yes, the Flying Spaghetti Monster may have created us all by touching us with His noodly appendage. That may be a hypothesis. But you simply can’t test that because He in His Infinite Carbalicious Goodness can just choose not to do it again. Or some vaguely-defined “Intelligent Designer” may have caused the bacterial flagllum to exist or have formed the mammalian eye. But that belief does not present any way of being tested, whereas evolutionary theory does (and has shown the precursors to all of those).

And that’s really the point of science: To use testable ideas to explain the where we came from, and then to predict where we’re going.

July 18, 2009

The Apollo Moon Hoax: Two Interviews (of Me)


A quick intermediate post in my series: I have been interviewed by “The Conspiracy Skeptic” podcast as well as on the “Rational Alchemy” radio show / podcast regarding the Apollo moon hoax conspiracy theory.

You can visit The Conspiracy Skeptic or click here to listen to the audio directly. Please note that you can subscribe to this podcast through iTunes.

Rational Alchemy is found here or go here for the podcast list. Click here for the audio of my interview.

All posts in this series:

July 17, 2009

The Apollo Moon Hoax: What’s Up with All Those Crosshairs? – Disappearing, Not Centered, and Tilted


Introduction

Within the class of Apollo moon hoax claims of evidence, there’s the giant category of photography and videography. Within that, there is a reasonable chunk of a few claims that deal with the crosshairs – also known as “fiducials.” There are numerous anomalies that deal with these crosshairs, and this post is meant to address most of them.

All posts in this series:

The Claims

There are two main crosshair claims. The first is a favorite of Bart Sibrel, who talks about it in his docudrama, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon: “A crosshair, which was burned directly into the image by the film plate, and thus should always appear on top of the objects in the photograph, appears behind the object in this scene, clearly revealing a composite of two pictures into one.” (Note that the specific scene in the movie is shown below.)

Bart Sibrel's "Disappearing Crosshair"

The second claim deals with the positioning and orientation of the crosshairs, with this quote taken from Bennet & Percy in Dark Moon, p. 68: “In some photographs the large crosshair is not centered, and in other the grid is not aligned with the image boundaries.”

What Are the Crosshairs?

Before I actually address these claims, I need to give some background information. The fiducials were etched onto a glass plate, each fiducial having a width of 0.1 mm (100 µm). They were etched in so as to be perpendicular/parallel with the edges of the glass plate. The center crosshair was larger than the others.

This plate was then inserted into the cameras between the lens and the film. Therefore, as the hoax folks claim, the crosshairs should all appear “on top of” anything in the photographs, and they should be aligned with the original image boundaries.

Part of the reason for having these was to determine the distances to objects when taking stereo pairs of images.

Why Do They Appear Behind Objects?

In every single example shown, the fiducials seem to “disappear behind” a bright, white object. There are three reasons why this happens: Bleeding of the emulsion, saturation of the dynamic range, and low-quality reproductions.

Taken in order, because the fiducials were so small, a bleeding of the chemicals to make the image of less than the width of a human hair could easily act to remove the fiducial.

This isn’t a very satisfying answer to today’s crowd of folks who have never developed film in a darkroom, so let’s move onto the second reason: Dynamic Range. This is actually the same reason why you don’t see stars in the photographs from the moon. The idea is that film can only record a certain level of darks to lights.

Let’s say that it’s represented by a number between 0 and 99. That is our dynamic range. Now let’s say that in a scene, we are going to take a photograph that lasts 1/100 second (0.01 sec). In this time, the darkest object in the scene reflects 0 or maybe 1 piece of light. In this amount of time, the brightest object in the scene reflects 150 pieces of light. And then there are objects of intermediate brightness.

When the image is recorded on the film, anything that emits or reflects more than 99 pieces of light in that 0.01 seconds will appear white. 99, 121, or 150 will all appear to be the same brightness.

Now, when we look at the photographs and these crosshairs seem to disappear behind a bright object, that’s in part due to the limited dynamic range. That bright object was reflecting more light than the camera could record in that exposure. And when the crosshair was over it, it did not lower the brightness enough to appear any differently.

This goes hand-in-hand with the third reason: Low-quality reproductions. Anyone who’s ever used a photocopier knows that you want to use the original. If you make a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy … then you will lose resolution and color-matching with each copy, eventually coming back with a splotchy, muddy image.

Apollo photographs have been copied so many times that the very slight brightness difference that a crosshair over a bright object vs. the bright object itself would have that it can easily disappear.

A side-reason from this is not just due to the copying, but also due to each person who got the copy (and then copied it and passed it on) manipulating the image. Anyone who looks at the image from Sibrel’s movie above (and re-posted below) who has photography background will notice that the image has been overly-sharpened (you can tell by the very bright white line on top of the hills in the background, among other things). When you sharpen an image, you have to select a pixel size overwhich to sharpen. Anything smaller than that pixel size will lose all detail, and hence the very fine lines from the fiducials can, again, easily disappear.

Bart Sibrel's "Disappearing Crosshair"

Why Are the Crosshairs Rotated, and Not Centered?

To revert to an ad hominem, this is a very silly claim, especially in this day and age where 5-year-olds can manipulate photographs on the computer. Remember, this was a massive public relations (PR) campaign, and NASA had to convince the American public (and the world) that this was worth doing.

So while NASA wouldn’t release all the bad photographs that the astronauts had taken, they also would take the good photographs and would crop and rotate them, which obviously would move the crosshairs around.

For example, I like to use Apollo 11 photograph AS11-40-5868, which shows Buzz Aldrin coming out of the lunar module (LM). The original photo is shown below, with the big crosshair centered, and the others all aligned with the image boundaries. (Note that I have sharpened the image in order to bring out the crosshairs.)

Apollo Photograph AS11-40-5868

Apollo Photograph AS11-40-5868

Now, let’s take another look at the photo. It’s kinda neat, but from a photographer’s point of view – and a PR person’s point of view – not all that great. The horizon is crooked, the astronaut looks like he’s going to fall off the ladder, and there’s this clunky machine that looks like it’s tilted and going to fall on him.

So let’s rotate it, and then crop it:

Apollo Photograph AS11-40-5868 After Rotating and Cropping

Apollo Photograph AS11-40-5868 After Rotating and Cropping

There now — we have a flat, horizontal horizon, the astronaut is majestically descending the ladder, and the clunky machinery of the LM is standing there, ready to take him back to the Command Module, orbiting above.

But – gasp! – the crosshairs are now rotated, and the large one is off-center!! Getting an idea for how silly this claim is, yet?

Final Thoughts

The crosshair/fiducial claims are just as much of an anomaly hunt as most of the other “evidence” for the conspiracy theorists. Each claim may, by itself, seem to make perfect sense, but then once you actually examine the claims, you will quickly find that they just fall apart.

The Apollo Moon Hoax: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Images Apollo Landing Sites


Introduction

In my post on “The Apollo Moon Hoax: Why Haven’t Any Pictures Been Taken of the Landing Sites?” I mentioned that NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is scheduled to take photographs of the Apollo landing sites. They did.

All posts in this series:

The Photos

These are really fairly unprocessed photographs and they are not at the highest resolution that they will eventually be once LRO actually targets the sites for close-up imaging during its primary mission phase (the narrow-angle camera should be able to resolve sizes of ~0.5 m (1.5 ft)).

However, they are still pretty darn cool, and they fly in the face of people like Bart Sibrel who in this CNN.com article is quoted as saying: “I do know the moon landings were faked,” said crusading filmmaker Bart Sibrel, whose aggressive interview tactics once provoked Aldrin to punch him in the face. “I’d bet my life on it.” Well, Bart, what do you think of these?

Apollo 11 Landing Site

Apollo 15 Landing Site

Apollo 16 Landing Site

Apollo 17 Landing Site

Apollo 14 Landing Site

I think that it’s so cool that you can actually see the astronaut’s footprints (well, the trail of footprints) on the moon. Amazing. (The visible trail is due to the astronauts disturbing the material on the lunar surface, much like we can see the rover trails on Mars from orbit.)

Final Thoughts – The Likely Hoax Response

As I said before, most of the Apollo moon hoax proponents will likely see it as a publicity stunt, that NASA faked ‘em, used Photoshop, or whatever. I doubt this will turn a true believer in the conspiracy theory into someone who now believes the official story.

But, for those of us who do know that we actually did land on the moon 40 years ago, these photographs are a welcome reminder of the amazing achievements of the Apollo space program, and they may serve to inspire a new generation of scientists.

July 16, 2009

The Apollo Moon Hoax: All the Photos Are Way Too Good!


Introduction

As part of my continuing series on the Apollo Moon Hoax, I am going to address a fairly common claim of all the Apollo photos being too good to be true. I’ll be writing a related post soon about the related claim dealing with how the astronauts actually took the photos (exposure settings, focusing, aiming, etc.).

All posts in this series:

The Claim

This is a pretty common Apollo moon hoax claim, and it was featured towards the beginning of the 2001 FOX docudrama. The basic premise shown during that TV special where they quote Bill Kaysings: “The pictures that we see that were allegedly taken on the moon are absolutely perfect.”

Another version, this time from Ralph Rene: “All the photographs brought back from the moon are correctly exposed, correctly framed, and crisply in focus. This seems suspicious.”

Is This True?

In a word: No.

What’s humorous about this claim in this this day and age is that it is demonstrably false given a computer, the internet, and less than 5 minutes. You can go to any number of websites that archive all the Apollo photographs and see quite plainly, for yourself, that many of the pictures, in a word, SUCK.

The Project Apollo Image Gallery is one of my favorite. I clicked randomly on the Apollo 12 mission. I clicked on three photos, in a row, selecting the position at random. One was good (AS12-46-6821), one was framed poorly with the horizon going down at around a 20° angle while photographing the astronaut’s butt (AS12-46-6820), and the third showed a lens flare of ghosting around the astronaut (AS12-46-6818).

And then there’s the one I’m showing below, AS12-47-7010. The label on the picture is, “Reflection of astronaut.” Quite, um, interesting, but hardly a “perfect,” “correctly exposed,” “correctly framed,” nor even “crisply in focus” photograph.

Bad Apollo Photograph - AS12-47-7010

Bad Apollo Photograph - AS12-47-7010

Why the Claim?

So that bears the question as to why this claim even exists if it’s so demonstrably wrong? The answer is that it’s really cheap to duplicate images these days (17¢ at Costco!!) or to place them online in a digital archive. But back in the 1960s and ’70s, that was not the case. It was expensive to print up images, and it took quite a bit of time.

Since this entire Apollo program was a massive public relations campaign – not only to the American public but to the rest of the world – NASA only released the best of the photographs. After all, of the literally thousands of photographs from the Apollo missions, it simply does not make sense for a press office to release all of them, rather they would want to control the release and only put out the best ones.

And not only that, but ones that may have been cropped and rotated to make them the best … but that’s an issue to address on a separate hoax proponent claim.

Final Thoughts

This claim is, in my opinion, one of the silliest that’s out there. It may seem like a good one, but literally any amount of effort to look into it will show that it’s simply wrong. This is a case of anomaly hunting where there isn’t even any anomaly.

The Apollo Moon Hoax: Footprints Need Water to Form, Right? And How Hoaxers Argue


Introduction

As part of my continuing series on the Apollo Moon hoax idea, I’m going to address a fairly minor claim that’s made about the astronaut footprints, and whether or not you actually need moist material in order to hold a foot impression.

All posts in this series:

The Claim

The basic claim goes as follows: The soil on the moon looks like its wet or made of plaster or something like that. After all, look at how sharp those footprints and impressions are!

Another version is: “Footprints are the result of weight displacing air or moisture from between particles of dirt, dust, or sand. The astronauts left distinct footprints all over the place.” (Dave Cosnette)

Still another version, this time from Bart Sibrel during a “debate” on the March 20, 2009 episode of Coast to Coast AM (around 10 min 30 sec): “If there’s no moisture on the moon, then how come you can see footprints perfectly? Because when you step in the desert where there’s no moisture in the sand, all you see is a circle. But in the photographs of the footprint on the moon, you see an absolute impression of the, uh, footprint indicating that there is moisture in the soil which means they’re not on the moon.”

What Makes a Footprint or Impression Hold its Shape?

After hearing this claim, the basic question that it raises is how does a material hold its shape? The answer is that there are two main ways.

The first way is that there is a glue-like substance between the individual particles of the material. The obvious choice on Earth is going to be water — water acts like a glue and will help a material hold its shape. An example of this is to take a cup of sand and try to make a pile of it. Measure the angle of the slope of the pile. Now add some water, and make the pile as steep as you can again. The slope will be larger because the water acts like a glue to hold the grains of sand together.

Obviously, this is what moon hoax proponents will have you believe is the only way that a material can hold its shape.

But, there is a second method. That’s when the particles that make up the material themselves are able to interlock, a little like puzzle pieces, and so can maintain their bulk shape. A good example on Earth of this would be a pile of flour able to hold almost any impression you make in it.

Digression – Disingenuine Nature of Bart Sibrel’s Arguments

I am bringing this up because it is an example of the way that hoax proponents argue — namely, in this case, Bart Sibrel. It is an example of how he fails to form a consistent picture, and even contradicts himself in his claims in just over one minute.

Directly following the quote I gave above, a caller into the show replied by effectively stating what I did above, and gave the example of flour:

Caller: If you take flour –

Sibrel: Flour has moisture in it.

Caller: — a very very fine powdered substance, then you step on it with no moisture in it at all, then it’s going to make a footprint.

Sibrel: Flour has moisture in it, you can feel it when you put your hand –

Caller: Of course flour has moisture in it on Earth. But you know you can take other substances that don’t have moisture in them and you can still make a footprint. I mean this –

Sibrel: Like what? Give me an example.

Caller: You can take fine rock dust –

Sibrel: Yeah, but you’re doing that on Earth where there’s moisture everywhere, the moon has never had moisture …

He goes on, but the point is made. Sibrel started out by using an example of sand not holding a footprint (note — sand on Earth). Just over a minute later, he contradicts himself by saying that there’s actually moisture everywhere on Earth … so my question is, then, why doesn’t sand in the desert hold its shape, Bart?

Another quality that this exchange brings to light – and is much more obvious when you actually listen to the audio – is that hoax proponents will advance their claim, and if actually in a live debate, they will interrupt the respondent constantly, and they will place the onus on the responder rather than themselves to come up with more and more examples or reasons why their claim is wrong.

You’ll notice in the above that the caller gave a perfectly fine example of flour, but Sibrel completely dismisses it by asking for “an” example – ignoring that he had just been given an example. Then, when the caller gives a second example, Sibrel goes back, sidesteps the example, and effectively states that any example is no good because it’s on Earth where there’s water. This is a classic example of the “shifting the goal post” logical fallacy.

What’s the Lunar Regolith Like?

First – a note on terminology is that astronomers call the surface of the moon to be made of “regolith,” rather than “soil,” since soil implies an organic (life) origin.

Anyway, the surface material of the moon has been created over the last ~4.5 billion years by meteorite and micrometeorite bombardment. It’s been pulverized. But, it has not been smoothed out due to normal processes of erosion on Earth, such as by wind or water.

Consequently, the lunar regolith is made of, effectively, shards of rock. And microscopic shards of rock are going to be able to interlock just as in the second method I described above. You don’t need moisture to make impressions when you have particles that can interlock.

Why Does the Lunar Surface “Look Wet?”

Apollo "Wet" Surface
A part of this claim that I’ve neglected so far is why the surface actually does look wet in some photographs. The reason is simply that it looks darker. We are evolutionarily trained that when we look at two surfaces and one is darker than the other, we will likely think it looks wet. For example, go to the beach. Wet sand is darker than dry sand — it’s that simple.

The reason that some places on the lunar surface “look wet” is because the material was (a) rougher at a centimeter-size scale (such as where the astronauts were digging or walking around), and since all the Apollo missions took place during morning on the moon when the shadows were very long, a centimeter-scale roughness will cast shadows over the area making the material look dark. An example of this is shown in the photograph on the right.

Final Thoughts

This is yet another example of anomaly hunting in the basis of the claim, and one where the hoax proponents rely yet again on the majority of your experience on Earth (when material looks wet, and why material holds together) in order to propagate their claim.

But, yet again, when you actually examine all the factors involved, the hoax claim evaporates much like water would on the lunar surface.

July 15, 2009

The Apollo Moon Hoax: Why Is There No Lunar Dust on the Lander’s Footpads?


The Apollo Moon Hoax: Why Is There No Lunar Dust on the Lander’s Footpads?

Introduction

For my continuing series in the Apollo Moon Hoax, I am going to address a claim that follows along the lines of the NASA stagehands not doing their job right — not placing any dust on the lunar module’s footpads.

All posts in this series:

The Claim

The basic claim goes as follows: When looking at the pretty pictures of the golden footpad of the Apollo lunar module (LM — see photo below), there doesn’t appear to be a single grain of dust on it, as though the module was just “placed there.”

Lunar Module Footpad - AS11-40-5926

Lunar Module Footpad - AS11-40-5926

Obviously, the NASA people who didn’t put the dust there were trying to tell future generations that this was a faked event, leaking this information out so no NASA higher-ups would realize.

The Lunar Atmosphere vs. Earth’s Atmosphere

There isn’t any. Simply put, the mass of the entire atmosphere of the moon is less than the amount of gas expelled by each Apollo descent engine.

As a result, if you were to pick up a handful of lunar dust and drop it, it would fall straight down with an acceleration about 1/6th that in Earth’s gravity. It would land directly below where you released it.

But it would appear to fall faster than that when compared with actually dropping flour-like substances on Earth. This is due to Earth’s atmosphere, which adds a resistive force to the dust settling down. In addition to this resistive force preventing its downward motion, Earth’s atmosphere is not still – it moves around. This allows any light material to billow out, creating clouds of material, and rarely landing directly below the location you released it.

The Lunar Module’s Descent Engine Shut-Off

The Apollo LMs had an antenna that when it came into contact with the lunar surface would trigger a light inside the craft. This light would be a signal to the astronauts to shut off the engine. Hence, the engine would be shut off before the craft landed.

Putting the Pieces Together to Debunk the Claim

At this point, we have two facts. First, lunar dust will drop straight down if it is released – be it from an astronaut that picks it up or from the force of a rocket engine’s exhaust (which, while not strong enough to create a crater was strong enough to suspend lunar dust). Second, the Apollo engines were shut off before the craft landed.

Consequently, as soon as the engines shut off, the source of a temporary atmosphere that surrounded the craft was terminated, and the dust that was suspended in it immediately dropped towards the lunar surface. The craft still had both a horizontal component to its trajectory, and the legs were above the majority of any of the temporary atmosphere that suspended the dust.

Hence, when the craft landed, it landed both to the side of the settled dust, and the dust would have already settled before the craft touched down, preventing any from being deposited on the LM’s footpads.

Final Thoughts

This claim is yet another one that hinges upon a perceived anomaly. And yet, this anomaly is common sense here on Earth but our common sense does not serve us well when trying to understand the lunar environment. When you hear a hoax claim, try to think about what would really happen in the environment of the moon, and you will be on your way to debunking the claim yourself.

July 14, 2009

The Apollo Moon Hoax: Why Is There No Blast Crater Under the Lunar Module?


Introduction

For my continuing series in the Apollo Moon Hoax, I am going to address a claim that anyone who has taken physics could explain: Why there is no “blast crater” underneath the lunar module’s rocket engine on the moon’s surface.

All posts in this series:

The Claim

The basic claim goes as follows: Before the Apollo landings, real NASA scientists and real artists (as opposed to fake ones) thought that the engine firing may create a blast crater underneath the lunar module. Pictures of the real site, however, showed no such crater, not even a big depression in the surface, as though the module was just “placed there.”

Obviously, the NASA people who didn’t create the crater on the soundstage/set/Area51/whatever were trying to tell future generations that this was a faked event, leaking this information out so no NASA higher-ups would realize.

Let’s Talk About Pressure

In physics, I think almost everyone knows that much discussion is given to studying “forces.” What is a force? A force has units of mass * length / time2. In other words, a force can be thought of as “what it takes” to accelerate a certain mass over a certain distance in a given amount of time. Gravity is a force. A human stepping exerts a force. A rocket engine exerts a force.

Moving one step further in complexity, we get pressure. Pressure is force / area (mass / (length * time2) ). So while a human stepping exerts a force, when you divide that force into the area of a human footstep, you get a pressure exerted.

The concept of force is actually shown in a neat magic trick that my parents would never let me do as a child: Take a coin, such as a dime. Take a nail and a hammer. Try to hammer the nail into the dime. You probably won’t be able to. Now take a pin and try to hammer the pin into the dime. It will likely go in. Why? Because while you are exerting the same force through the hammer, it is concentrated over a much smaller area with the pin, and hence you are exerting a greater pressure.

Another way to think about that is to take your finger and push on your forehead. All you may get is a white mark for a bit before the blood returns. Now, think (don’t do!!) about what would happen if you took a pin and tried the same thing. You would puncture the skin because while you exert the same force, you are exerting a much greater pressure through the pin.

How Is Pressure Relevant? — The Crux of Debunking This Claim

First, some numbers: The lunar module (LM) descent stage engine had a maximum thrust of 9870 ft-lb, but this was throttleable back to a minimum of 1050 ft-lb. Sounds like a lot. But, the diameter of the nozzle was 63 inches, which is an area of about 3120 in2. Dividing this into the force (thrust) and you have a pressure range of 0.4-3.2 ft-lb/in2, otherwise known as psi. This is equivalent to the metric 2760-22,100 N/m2. But let’s stick with psi.

Anyone who owns a car probably knows that this is already significantly less than your tire pressure … by a factor of 10-100. When Apollo 11 landed, the thrust was down to about 1/3 of max, so down to around 1 psi.

Now let’s look at the average adult footstep: The average non-American weighs around 150 lbs. The average human footprint is around 50 in2 (don’t believe me? do the math yourself!). Divide the first into the second and you have the average human footstep exerting a simple 3 psi.

This is 3x larger than Apollo’s engines!!

The very fact that the astronauts walking on the moon did not create “blast craters” underneath them should be explanation enough as to why the engine did not create a blast crater under it — the pressure was simply too low.

Then Why Did They Think It Would Before?

Good question. The best explanation that I could find is that when the hoax believers say, “NASA scientists,” it implies all NASA scientists. But it could just as well mean 2 NASA scientists as 2000. Hence, I would hypothesize that this was a possibility that was raised by a few people, but the majority in the review board said it would not happen and so the missions went ahead.

As for the artist renderings, well, many of the pictures painted at the time also show a big yellow-red flame coming out of the rocket engine as the LM touches down. But – as was known by all NASA engineers who knew about the fuel system – the fuel used would create no visible exhaust “flame” while in the lunar environment. Hence, an artist rendering should be taken as just that – an artist rendering and not as a scientific gospel.

Final Thoughts

Well, this is actually one of my shorter posts, but I’m trying to be less verbose these days as some feedback I’ve gotten is that I type too much. Regardless of that, though, I think that I’ve covered this claim reasonably well. All because some people thought one thing prior to Apollo landing does not mean that Apollo finding something else is evidence of a hoax. That’s what scientific exploration is.

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