Exposing PseudoAstronomy

July 16, 2009

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.

45 Comments »

  1. Footprints require:

    1. either moisture to stick material together
    or
    2. air to compress material

    Moon has neither moisture or air. LOOKS LIKE YOU ARE OVERLOOKING BOTH OF THESE. Your flour example contains both moisture/humidity and air. Any example you try to confuse people with here on Earth lacks any integrity or honesty because all material here on Earth has moisture/humidity and air.

    Furthermore, 40 years later man cannot go higher than 1/5 of 1% as high as the fake Moon Landing, which only happened under 1 criminal President, NIXON.

    Comment by Former US Marine — July 19, 2009 @ 8:17 am | Reply

    • I’m sorry, but you’re simply wrong here. As I explained, a shape can be held without moisture when the pieces that make up the medium will “lock together” on their own, which is the case with the lunar regolith.

      As for us not having gone back yet, we don’t have the vehicle to do so, nor the capital, and political will is still lacking despite both Bush’s and Obama’s apparent desire to go back.

      Comment by astrostu206265 — July 19, 2009 @ 9:48 am | Reply

      • “we don’t have the vehicle to do so, nor the capital…”
        – so in 1969 the US gov’t had the “vehicle”? you’re saying that in 1969 the US gov’t has far advanced technology than today, 2011?
        – what about all the satellites & the space shuttles? why don’t any of them explore beyond 500 miles above the earth? why are they not exploring beyond the radiation belt now? but they were not afraid to go beyond that in 1969?
        – computers that time was, what? UNIVAC? & yet it “landed men on the moon”….computers during the space shuttle are what, pentium 3 or 4? & yet disasters keep haunting their space program?
        *peace*

        Comment by eaglehorn — September 5, 2011 @ 6:11 am

      • …”True science had already determined that there should have been four to eight feet of moon dust on all the Moon’s surface. An astronaut would have sunk deep into the dust even with the Moon’s weak gravity.”

        Comment by eaglehorn — September 6, 2011 @ 2:07 am

    • The Mythbusters tested this claim by putting lunar “simultant” (artificial material with the same microscopic jagged edges as real lunar soil) in a vacuum chamber and lowering a boot onto it. And a nice bootprint formed.

      Comment by Phil Karn — February 18, 2010 @ 11:04 am | Reply

    • The relevance of criminal President Nixon is… what? He took office 6 months before Apollo 11. Didn’t have anything to do with Apollo. Hated it, in fact, because it was Kennedy’s puppy. Took advantage of the situation, though, to waste the astronauts limited surface time to give ’em a call thus getting his voice broadcast worldwide.

      May he burn in hell forever.

      Comment by Woof — September 6, 2016 @ 12:58 pm | Reply

  2. Can you please describe how pieces of dust “interlock.” By what molecular process does this occur? I do not claim to know if moisture is required or not, but I am interested in learning more.

    Thanks!

    Comment by observer — September 12, 2009 @ 8:24 pm | Reply

    • Think of puzzle pieces, or, to a lesser extent, glass shards. Think of a container of push-pins. To some extent, these will all maintain a shape that is pressed into them on a macroscopic scale. Now, scale that down dramatically and it’s effectively the same principle. It’s not a chemical or molecular process, rather a simple physical process.

      Comment by astrostu206265 — September 12, 2009 @ 8:41 pm | Reply

      • The process by which powder takes a print in the absence of water or air pressure (which both increase the effect but are not necessary for it) is surface energy. If you compact powder the surface area is reduced due to intimate powder contact. This means it takes less energy to hold the print than for it to collapse. If the print collapsed it would require energy to generate the increased surface energy of the ‘collapsed’ print.

        It’s not ‘interlocking shards’ it’s surface physics. Blind leading the blind.

        Comment by Kelly — October 19, 2009 @ 5:40 am

    • Flour mimics this nicely flour does not need to be wet in order to leave a print in it.

      Comment by gate420Peter — September 5, 2011 @ 10:38 am | Reply

  3. Very easy to give a new name to dust/sand or whatever. “Lunar regolith”! What rubbish. I agree with Former Marine, and think that astrostu is in the ‘bull[—-] baffles brains’ situation. Just observe. A dead certain give away is the high flying American flag. Perhaps they took a stand mounted hairdryer on board or perhaps the non atmosphere has a special flag flying wind called lunar flagolift.

    Comment by TC — October 8, 2009 @ 1:41 pm | Reply

    • Perhaps you should have a peak at an actual picture, and see if you can guess how the flag is flying high:

      Comment by Mark — October 18, 2009 @ 7:39 pm | Reply

      • It’s obviously flying because they put a metal rod in the top of it before placing on the movie set. Duh!

        Comment by Garon — October 21, 2010 @ 2:10 pm

      • The flag look like it is waving because first there are 2 bars the obvious side bar and ten a bar running across the top the top bar was bent so the flag ended up being wrinkled as he was spinning the rod to drive it into the surface the flag appeared to be waving do you really think that Nasa if they had faked the moon landing would have spent 300 billion dollars and released a waving flag to the public get real.

        Comment by gate420 — December 1, 2010 @ 10:27 am

    • Have you actually looked at lunar regolith under a microscope? Perhaps you should before you reject the name. It’s called ‘regolith’ because it’s broken up by countless high velocity impacts into tiny little sharp particles that look vastly different from bits of dust or sand on the earth.

      The moon is an utterly alien world that lacks water, an atmosphere and life. Yet some people who’ve never been there still seem very confident about how it is up there.

      Thanks, but I prefer to go by the reports of the 12 who actually did go, and by those who’ve spent their careers studying the materials brought back.

      Comment by Phil — September 2, 2010 @ 4:58 pm | Reply

  4. Mark, I think it’s interesting how you think you can see a flag “flying” or waving in a still picture.

    Comment by astrostu206265 — October 18, 2009 @ 10:18 pm | Reply

  5. My reference as to why it is the interlocking pieces that is a major part of why the prints hold their shape (two pages, same site) – lunar environment and read questions 3 and 4.

    Kelly, your explanation would seem to make sense, except for this: The lunar surface on the footprint-size at macroscopic scale is for all intents and purposes flat. Fairly little surface area. Compare that to a bootprint, which has ridges and troughs, increasing the surface area of that volume. I would also think that the energy for collapse would be provided by the gravitational potential energy of the grains that are higher up … hence why the surface was relatively flat to begin with.

    Comment by astrostu206265 — November 5, 2009 @ 9:54 am | Reply

  6. The reduction in surface area of the powder is due to powder compaction it’s nothing to do with the foot print shape. It’s the surface between the powder particles that is reduced. It is this surface energy (or reduction of) that holds the footprint together.

    Comment by Kelly — November 6, 2009 @ 8:09 am | Reply

  7. they just found moisture on the moon in 2009

    Comment by anonymous — November 14, 2009 @ 3:12 pm | Reply

    • Liquid water though? I would assume it’s frozen water, or if liquid, trapped below the surface. Liquid water, exposed to a high vacuum, would boil off very quickly.

      Comment by GlowingApple — November 27, 2009 @ 11:05 pm | Reply

      • Yes, it’s only frozen water, and only in those areas of the moon cold enough for the vapor pressure of that water to be extremely low. It’s been there a long time, so otherwise it would have sublimated long ago.

        Comment by Phil — September 2, 2010 @ 5:00 pm

  8. A more conclusive test to either confirm or deny this would be to take a fine particulate (chromatography grade silica gel for example), place it in a vacuum to remove all moisture and, under a full vacuum, press a mold into it to create a print. Unfortunately I don’t have access to a large vacuum chamber, but I’m guessing some proponents of the hoax idea have tried this before.

    I would think that without wind or water to erode the print, the form would likely stay due only to packing of the particles (as was described in the article). Friction between the particles, and to a lesser extent weaker intermolecular forces acting between particles, could be enough to overcome the lower gravity on the moon.

    Comment by GlowingApple — November 27, 2009 @ 10:59 pm | Reply

    • Mythbusters have already done this and proved you do not need moisture to make a bootprint

      Comment by gate420 — December 1, 2010 @ 10:20 am | Reply

  9. This picture of Aldrin standing next to the LM is from a copy of the original made onto film with fairly high contrast. A higher quality scan from the original (available at the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal) shows much less drop-of of illumination toward the horizon.

    Comment by Phil Karn — February 18, 2010 @ 11:07 am | Reply

  10. First of all, the science that you are using does not make sense. There are many substances that interlock right here on earth without moisture; and they are called rocks. Rock is a compressed substance that lacks moisture. When Moon dust locks together it becomes rock. Now we only talk about the footprints of the moon astronauts, and people try to show how it works without moisture, but let’s look at something else besides the mysterious foot prints, and I will not even talk about the dust on the suits. Let’s look at the aluminum that covers the tires on the LRV. Now you talk about interlocking, but every scientist knows that in a vacuum there is no way that DUST will stick to aluminum. It is physically impossible without moisture. The only reason dirt sticks to metal on earth, is because of what is known as oxidation, And clearly oxygen is not a factor of the Apollo missions. What NASA scientist wants us to believe is that lunar soil is unique to the entire universe, and just because we supposedly went there, the lunar soil and rocks are totally different then any physical presents that are here on this earth, or any other moon or planet. This means when the astronauts landed on the moon they changed Einstein’s, Newton’s, and every theory that exist about space.

    Comment by Len — September 1, 2010 @ 9:16 pm | Reply

    • How does every scientist know that in a vacuum there’s no way for dust to stick to aluminum, or any other material? The astronauts complained that lunar dust was quite abrasive and it stuck to just about everything.

      That’s because most of the chemical compounds that make up the lunar regolith (various oxides, silicates, titanates, etc) are quite hard, and the individual grains are quite sharp. They were formed by a steady rain of tiny particles from space impacting at very high velocity, several km/sec at least. And there’s no air or liquid water to erode them.

      Aluminum’s hardness varies depending on the particular alloy, but I don’t see any particular reason why these hard, sharp little bits can’t scratch and adhere to aluminum just as they do to just about every other material the astronauts brought with them.

      Comment by Phil — September 2, 2010 @ 5:08 pm | Reply

      • If it stuck to everything, than why is there no dust on the lunar landing pads? why are they squeaky clean?

        Comment by Nathan — March 28, 2016 @ 4:38 pm

    • Hi Len, I don’t think the tyres had aluminium in it’s tread. The basic ‘tyre’ was made from ‘piano’ wire with possibly titanium chevrons. I would think that aluminium strips by be too brittle for tyre treads.

      Comment by John Adkins — October 29, 2016 @ 5:20 am | Reply

  11. here are 3 sites for any non believer of the moon landings real proof that the landings are indeed real and that all skeptics claims have been debunked http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/tv/foxapollo.html http://www.space.com/entertainment/cs-080827-mythbusters-apollo-moon-hoax.html Now my last piece of evidence is from Nasa but they must be shown that the newest pictures are from the new lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken photos of the Appolo landing sites http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/LRO/multimedia/lroimages/apollosites.html.If after reading all the materials at these 3 sites you still don’t believe I feel very sorry for you and what you must think of human,and you miss out on the real excitement and achievement of the 1969 Apollo moon landing.

    Comment by gate420 — December 1, 2010 @ 10:35 am | Reply

    • Ok, Fox News is NOT a credible source for anything. The mythbusters specialize in Hollywood physics and only have an half hour to explain what noone in 40 years has, and the NASA page no longer exists. Did someone pay you to post this?

      Comment by Shawn Cooper — September 29, 2012 @ 12:09 pm | Reply


  12. How did the Astronauts take this picture of the imprint, the Astronaut would have to of been at a 90 degree angle at least?

    Comment by Eesha — July 3, 2011 @ 5:44 pm | Reply

    • Oh, I don’t know… Maybe after making the footprint he moved his foot over a couple of inches to take a picture of his foot and the footprint. Doesn’t seem that difficult.

      Comment by Garon — August 4, 2011 @ 1:14 pm | Reply

    • haha! that was a fake comment. It had to be. No ones that dumb….are you?!

      Comment by Pie — February 14, 2012 @ 11:59 am | Reply

  13. Wow, we know more about the moon than the bottom of the ocean. It’s the other side of the moon that has been peppered with craters, but apparently enough on this side of the moon, too? A layer of gray concrete pre-mix has the consistency of flour, which they did have in the 60’s, as well. Perfect for the hoax. And, with all of the modern telescopes (even since the 60’s) why is it that only an official photo (recently taken) has been released of the landing sites? No amateurs could locate it? CGI anyone? Or maybe they all had lunar dust sticking to their camera lenses, and thus, blurring the shot? The same dust that stuck to everything, refused to stick to the landing footpads. Aaaand, more money has been spent on trying to explain it away than actually getting there, which the Russians (first to outerspace) have yet to do. We haven’t gone back, because we were never there in the first place. Not because the fuel prices have been jacked up (I dare you to claim that gasoline and oil was used to get us there, outside of plastics of course). It’s all been cold war propaganda, used to scare off the communists, and dupe the general population into believing we’ve got it covered, albeit hidden for interests of someone’s security. If you are going to school us on convection and conduction, you might not want to debunk both as occuring on the moon.
    (P.S. I’ve seen plenty of footage of those flags moving without any hands on them.)🙂

    Comment by Shawn Cooper — September 29, 2012 @ 11:55 am | Reply

    • Learn some optics. The size of the lens/mirror required to image the landing sites from Earth is completely impractical.

      Comment by Woof — September 6, 2016 @ 12:49 pm | Reply

  14. We have full panoramic colour images from the Mars mission ..Question is.. why no nice detail shots of our moon? why haven’t NASA sent a orbiter or satellite to the moon and sent us back some really nice panoramic colour photos of the moon? you would think with today’s technology we could Google the moon just as easily as we Google the Earth. The images we have of the moon are mainly distant, vague in black and white certainly not close up images like we have of Mars.

    Comment by Ray Herring — June 19, 2015 @ 4:20 pm | Reply

  15. Has anyone actually compared the sole of Armstrongs Shoe, to the prints we can all see? The recent stories about museums saving his suit show a clear video image of the sole of his shoes, and they are totally different to the footprints we can all see.
    So is the suit, that the museums all perceive to be his genuine suit that he wore on the lunar landing, fake? Or are the footprints fake?

    Comment by Wayne Acathan — July 26, 2015 @ 12:21 pm | Reply

    • I believe that the shoes that made the footprints were overshoes, worn over the suit shoes.

      They would have been left on the surface along with the PLSSs, misc trash, and poop bags.

      Comment by Woof — October 15, 2015 @ 11:31 pm | Reply

  16. Hi Folks,
    Way way up there there is an”official” photo near the explanation of why certain areas look wet. Now look at it again. You can CLEARLY see that the light source only illuminate an area about 20-30 feet in diameter. Everywhere else is much darker. How can the sun lit up such a small area only from millions of miles away? Answer, daily double eh. It cannot. That small area is lit by a studio overhead light from up very close.
    Again this is another clear example of mixing studio pictures with “real” pictures which fuels hoax theorist to no end. And ,again ,the guy who writes these debunkings should know better not to use studio pictures to prove any point. Which makes me wonder and makes me repeat the question posed before: who pays this debunking guy and how much for his work? If he was such an honest guy he should disclose this information as well. And guess what, it would not do any bad to him either. no one works for free and this debunking is a lot of work.
    Cheers Steve

    Comment by Steve K. — February 8, 2016 @ 1:56 pm | Reply

  17. Can you tell me how the astronauts of Apollo 11, for example, made it through the Van Allen Belt? Can you explain why NASA is still doing research as to how this can be done? Why don’t they simply use the strategy that was implemented in the first missions?

    Comment by etherstage — June 18, 2016 @ 5:02 pm | Reply

    • How’d they make it through? Brace yourself: They just went through. It was at a less dense part of the belts, and they went through at speed, so there wasn’t all that much accumulated radiation.

      Think of it as running across a football field on a cloudy day vs crawling across it on a bright sunny day. Not very likely to get a sunburn if you run on a cloudy day.

      The only “research” that NASA is doing on getting through the belts (that I have heard of) was an instrumented test flight of Orion a few years ago, which recorded the exposure in the capsule. They’re more careful these days than they were in the 60s.

      Comment by Woof — September 6, 2016 @ 12:37 pm | Reply

  18. No footprints would have been possible judging by Armstrong’s suit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/badastronomy/19237440824/in/album-72157655706447359/

    Comment by Jim — September 6, 2016 @ 11:49 am | Reply

    • On the surface the astronauts wore overshoes. Those made the prints, not the suit shoes.

      Comment by Woof — September 6, 2016 @ 12:25 pm | Reply

  19. On the footprint question, I was thinking that if the very fine dust was in fact quite smooth and wasn’t of an interlocking nature, it would tend not to keep its shape say on earth because of gravity pulling it downwards. Maybe on a much reduced gravity environment like the moon, the force in pulling it down and breaking it up would be massively reduced. This would enable the footprint to keep it’s shape.

    Comment by John Adkins — October 21, 2016 @ 6:16 am | Reply


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