Exposing PseudoAstronomy

August 7, 2012

Richard C. Hoagland (et al.) on Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) “Curiosity” Landing Last Night


I attended a party at work for the Mars Science Laboratory (hereafter “Curiosity”) landing last night, so I wasn’t anywhere near the radio. I have to say that I am honestly a bit surprised everything worked exactly (or as near exactly) as planned and we had a very successful landing. A HUGE kudos/congratulations to all of the engineers who put that landing system together, and now the science team can start to learn more about Mars’ surface geology than hopefully most other landers put together.

That said, as promised on the Exposing PseudoAstronomy facebook page last night, Richard C. Hoagland was on Coast to Coast AM last night all four hours, each hour with a different person, discussing the landing. And I promised a blog post.

Warning: This post has snark. A non-trivial amount of it.

Hour the First

This was the hour that Curiosity landed. There was very little pseudoscience during this. A bit of wrong facts (such as the sky crane using steel cables to lower Curiosity when it used nylon), and a bit of Richard’s usual stuff, and then just four minutes before the top of the hour, we got to typical Richard.

There were prior two quotes perhaps worth mentioning. First: “There are several clues coming out of no less an authority than the White House that this mission, Curiosity, might be where NASA finally unveils a hint of the real Mars.” We know “real Mars” to Hoagland means ancient technology and life.

Second, in response to a question about finding fossils on Mars: “I am hearing officials – high officials in NASA – talking about Curiosity maybe spotting fossils. Now that means, politically, … if our trend curve / other data is accurate, this could be the mission where NASA comes clean and starts talking about actually what’s there on Mars.” I love how he always cites “officials” or “high officials.” Nameless, or course, to protect their identity, which also makes it uncheckable.

The typical Richard came out starting about 36:25 into the hour after George asked Richard what was “next” for Curiosity. Richard explained that it was going to be exploring the huge mound in the center of Gale Crater, Mt. Sharp, and that it would take years for the rover to get up to the top. But then we had: “The object itself – the mountain itself – [start talking in conspiracy voice as though he’s talking to a 3-year-old] doesn’t quite look … uh … ¿natural? Mount Sharp, the very peak, looks in fact like an eroded tetrahedron, like somebody – someone built this thing. This is going to sound totally nuts to all my enemies out there …”

Yup, pretty much. Immediately following that was a dig at, I think, Phil Plait as he mentioned hair-pulling but that some doing the hair-pulling don’t have much hair to begin with. He continued: “There is no commonly accepted mechanism for the formation of Mount Sharp in the middle of this crater.”

Richard then proceeded to say that craters form when an asteroid strikes a surface, “blasting a huge hole in the surface of Mars. How do you get a mountain? covering the crater subsequently? Where’d the stuff come fro? to form the mountain?”

George: “It was brought there maybe.”

Richard: “Exactly! And some of the photographs that have been taken by MRO, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, that I have on the Coast website … they look down on incredibly geometric ruin-like structures photographed right in the path that Curiosity has to drive. … It is only the beginning.”

Apparently, Richard has no idea how craters larger than about 6 km on Mars form. At approximately that diameter and larger, craters are so large and create such a compressive force that the surface rebounds in the center and you get a central peak. Look at any reasonably fresh crater larger than 15 km on the Moon and you’ll see a central peak. Same with Mars (but the cut-off there is ~6 km as I mentioned). That explains a fair amount of Gale, but the rest of it – and why it was selected as the landing site – is what are thought to be sedimentary deposits. In other words, deposits made by water. Not a 50-mile-wide and 3-mile-high pyramid made by intelligent beings stupid enough to believe in your hyperdimensional physics, Richard.

Hour the Second

This hour was with John Brandenburg. This is not meant to be a poisoning of the well ad hominem nor non sequitur, but Brandenburg was introduced as having written books entitled, “Life and Death on Mars,” and “Beyond Einstein’s Unified Field.” He was further introduced as a plasma physicist and someone who was trying to “complete the work of Einstein” on unifying the fundamental forces mathematically. When one hears that, especially on a show like Coast to Coast, one’s B.S. detector should be tweaked.

Richard monopolized a lot of the time in the early part of this hour – and what I later found to be most of the show – and he reiterated his claim that the central mound in Gale Crater is a collapsed arcology. Some evidence, you might ask? Of course: “It’s got headlights! … Why, since you’re not driving at night, … why do you need headlights at night? They’re going into the structure where they don’t have any light!” Q.E.D. right?

He went on: “As we go through the morning I’m going to lay out more data points – carefully researched so I don’t sound like a total idiot, cause people can go and confirm this themselves; now, if they interpret the data the same way, that’s up to them, but the data is there … .”

That actually is a remarkably honest statement and it’s one of Richard’s many “outs” that he usually includes, and it’s also, incidentally, the way that creationists will often argue: It’s all about your worldview, we’re all looking at the same data! The problem with Richard is that he has his conspiracy/artifacts/life agenda, and the data – no matter what they are – will always support that from his vantage point.

He went on to say that the Obama administration is holding an “October Surprise.” I’m looking forward to November when George will come back and ask Richard why there wasn’t any no one holds Richard to this except for callers who don’t make it through and Facebook fans who get banned.

Anyway, after the bottom-of-the-hour-break, John explained that he believes Mars once had a thriving biosphere, that the climate changed dramatically with the formation of Lyot Crater (a crater that I have extensively studied and written three papers on …) that doomed the planet. Before that, it had an oxygen atmosphere and thriving biosphere according to him.

Well, real quick, in my papers I date Lyot Crater to about 3.3-3.7 billion years ago. There’s some VERY preliminary work I’m doing that might make it more like 2 billion years old, but that is in no way shape nor form an age that should be used at the moment.

On Earth, it took until something like 2.4 billion years before we had an oxygen atmosphere which was the pollution of the first bacterial life. This is a case where John Brandenburg can “believe” anything he wants, but it’s up to him to provide the evidence that supports his ideas and counters the established observations that disagree with his ideas.

Which get more strange. At 24:44 into hour 2: “There seems to have been a very large nuclear event. … One hypothesis I’ve put forth … [is] this was a natural nuclear reactor … and you can find a big radiation scar on Mars from the gamma ray spectrometer.” Okay, yes, natural nuclear reactors happened, it happened in Africa on Earth a long time ago. But there is NO evidence it happened on Mars. The Gamma Ray Spectrometer was designed to search for evidence of sub-surface hydrogen that is thought to be bound in water. Not search for nuclear blast sites. John cites several lines of “evidence” for his model that, honestly, are not evidence for anything he’s suggesting, but to get the whole story, of course you need to go buy his book.

No argument would be complete, though, without the argument from persecution, which comes at about 26 minutes into the episode when he said that he was denounced not only by the US but by the Soviets. I didn’t know he put forth his ideas prior to the 1990s.

But it gets better. The story continues when Richard comes back from listening to the NASA press conference and points out (first) that one of their lines of evidence for bombs going off is that some craters are in chains which look like bombing runs. Um, no. Craters occur in chains for at least three reasons: Pit craters (they are collapse features overlying voided lava tubes, so follow the lava tube), secondary craters (my specialty, ejecta thrown out from the formation of a primary crater), and craters formed by an object that was broken up by the gravity of the planet (think Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet impact). Bombing runs would be the last thing any reputable scientist would suggest for the formation of a crater chain on Mars.

But it gets better. Richard points out that an instrument on Curiosity will be for investigating the radiation environment on Mars, but that because NASA keeps emphasizing “natural radiation,” they doth protest too much and so he thinks it’s code for, of course, radiation from whatever technology the ancient Martians had. It couldn’t be, possibly, because if they don’t say “natural radiation” some generic member of the public would wonder about it and ask why there’s radiation on Mars? (It’s because of a lack of atmosphere shielding it from NATURAL radiation from the sun and extra-solar system cosmic rays.) It’s why I keep trying to say “impact crater” instead of just “crater” (even though I fail) because “impact crater” is more specific. Even though it’s usually assumed. But no, it’s ’cause they’re using Curiosity to look for a way to date when the civil Mars war occurred that wiped everyone out.

The final “data point” we get from Richard in this hour that was supposed to feature Brandenburg in the first half and callers in the second half is that the White House christmas card from last year supposedly had, reflected in the blinds in the window, the logo for the Curiosity rover. Talk about pareidolia. And the fact that it was in the library, where no other White House christmas card has ever been photographed “before or since” (not sure how we’ve had a Christmas since 2011), is because they’re sending the message that Curiosity is going to uncover the ancient knowledge (represented by the books) of Mars.

2011 White House Christmas Card

2011 White House Christmas Card

How Richard puts this together is beyond me and likely would get him committed to many psychiatric institutes.

Hour the Third

It bears mentioning during this hour that Hoagland remarked about “typical NASA arrogance” when, during the press conference, the principle investigator for the mission was asked by a 10-year-old when “the kids” get to drive Curiosity on Mars. Hoagland stated that the PI had no sense of humor and bristled and said, “Well, there are 400 scientists ahead of her in line.” Richard’s response? Well, I already told you: “Typical NASA arrogance.” Hmm. How about “Basic fact and responding in a way that a child can understand.” As opposed to the reality, which is “never.” That would have been more of an arrogant response.

Most of this hour was relatively tame until around 24 minutes in. Robert Zubrin is, by most accounts a reasonably sane person and though he thinks that there are fossils on Mars, he doesn’t claim any of the pareidolia evidence that Sir Charles Schultz III does, he just thinks they’re there but we haven’t gathered evidence for them.

At 23:20, Richard interrupts, as he often does. In fact, there was a “debate” a few years ago between the two on Coast and Zubrin at one point effectively said, “Richard, if you’re not going to let me talk, if you keep interrupting me, I’m just going to hang up.”

Anyway, Richard claims that several NASA people have said that we might find fossils on Mars with Curiosity. I have not heard this. I would be very surprised if anyone connected with the team or a scientist or official at NASA stated that. I’d like to know who and when, Richard. If you skip over the one caller they took after that, to around 30 minutes in, Zubrin starts to question Richard’s statement. Then they start arguing. Hoagland believes they already know of fossils (and will disclose a few days before the US presidential election), Zubrin is more rational, which is always a big no-no on Coast.

They took one more call and Richard interrupted him.

Hour the Fourth

The guest this hour was Richard Hoagland. Oh, and some other guy who Richard didn’t really let talk. Something-something-something. (Looks up the name …) David Livingston.

David really didn’t bring anything to the table this hour because Richard kept talking. It was really just more of the same but Richard let his hair down a bit more and let himself talk more. Err, go more into his weird ideas. More conspiracy stuff, more “they know and this mission is going to let them talk about it and we have pictures of fossils” etc. etc. etc.

Final Thoughts

Can you tell I was a bit jaded by the end? Yeah …

Anyway, the only good thing to come out of it is, as usual, Hoagland kept saying throughout the night one of the only things that I fully support him on: The space program is awesome and the landing of Curiosity is a great accomplishment. More resources should be invested in space, and the landing of Curiosity has given the space program a very good and very needed P.R. boost.


Mike Bara Defends the Lunar Ziggurat – My Response


As promised, Mike Bara has posted a rebuttal to my analysis of the lunar ziggurat. To recap from earlier, I noted these three points of what Mike must explain before I would revise my conclusion:

  1. Why there is less noise in the NASA original but more noise in Mike’s, and why is there more contrast (more pure black and more saturated highlights) in Mike’s? Both of these pretty much always indicate that the one with more noise and more contrast is a later generation … you can’t just Photoshop in more detail like that.
  2. Why other images of the same place taken by several different craft (including non-NASA ones), including images at almost 100x the original resolution of the Apollo photo, don’t show the feature.
  3. Why the shadowed parts of his ziggurat are lit up when they’re in shadow, on top of a hill, and not facing anything that should reflect light at them?

I also want to, very briefly, up-front address Mike’s claim (again) that I “hate” him with the evidence being my analysis of these claims. I addressed this idea at length before, and I recommend you read this blog post on it. That said, Mike, I do not hate you. I think you make – and I can show you make – factual misstatements, and I point them out. When you say that I attack you (which I don’t – I address your claims), it (a) makes you sound like you have a persecution complex, (b) makes you sound a tad paranoid and are in a black and white “us versus them” world, and (c) makes it easier for you to attack me rather than to address my analysis of your claims.

If you make it to the end of this ~4800 ~5400-word post, kudos! If you don’t, I’ll give you the spoiler (highlight it to see it): Mike only addressed 1.5 of the above, and I believe I have refuted them all successfully, but I fully encourage you to look into everything I talk about, yourself, and understand the concepts discussed … then maybe you’ll understand them better than Mike, like image noise and dynamic range.

The post I’m responding to of Mike’s is located here.

Edited to Add (08/08/2012 @1:09 MDT): Mike, 19 minutes ago, posted to Twitter: “Dear Dr. Robbins; I apologize. I thought you were just another dumbass like expat. I had no idea you were actually a paid NASA shill. My bad” Well then, I guess that covers it. If you think because I’ve destroyed your arguments that I’m a paid NASA shill, I guess there’s no validity to them at all. Incidentally and for the record, could you tell me where on my tax returns I’m supposed to put that NASA hush money? And in all seriousness for non-conspiracy folks, I make a meager living like most scientists and, like most astronomers, a fair amount of my salary does come from NASA-awarded grants, but I literally have less connection with NASA than a custodian who sweeps the floors of JPL. And this is, yet again, evidence of what I wrote three paragraphs above with points a-c.)

Initial Statements

I was somewhat surprised, Mike actually has taken note of me. He addresses me in his first paragraph:

“Last week after Richard C. Hoagland posted the image of Daedalus Ziggurat that I had forwarded to him to the Coast to Coast AM website, a mini-controversy exploded on the web over it, with the usual suspects claiming that Hoagland had “hoaxed” the image or that it was a “fraud,” and if it wasn’t a fraud, then his inability to see it as a fraud was proof he was either a “liar” or “incompetent.” The chief purveyor of this nonsense was somebody named Stuart Robbins on his blog.”

I will re-iterate and state yet again: I did not say that Richard hoaxed the image, I said that someone did. I did then state that Richard was not competent in the analysis if he did not see it was a hoax/fraud (or lied about how long he spent analyzing it) based upon the analysis I gave in my initial post and then video.

So, let’s see what evidence Mike has laid out that my analysis was flawed. After all, that is how any scientific discourse should be conducted.

(And P.S., Mike, that’s “Dr. Robbins,” but I don’t take offense.)

Next Four Paragraphs

The next four paragraphs explain where Mike found the image (as we have by now established that it was Mike who sent it to Richard, though I have yet to see Richard acknowledge that, but that’s not important at the moment). Mike does state, “the image currently posted by NASA on the Lunar and Planetary Institute website had obviously been altered to reduce the chances of anybody spotting the artifact if they downloaded the source image.”

Charging a scientific organization of deliberate tampering of any sort of data is a serious charge. It will be interesting to see Mike’s evidence for it.

Sixth Paragraph

“Now in terms of Mr. Robbins “analysis” of the images, I will simply say that it leaves a lot to be desired. Let me also state that I am no Photoshop expert, like he claims to be, and lack the artistic talent to create anything like Daedalus Ziggurat. I found the image, posted by someone else, period. I enhanced it as best I could and passed it on to Richard for his opinion.”

I could not find where I claimed to be a Photoshop expert. If Mike or anyone else can find it, please let me know. I did say that I’ve been using it for 20 years or so, but that doesn’t mean I’m an expert. It does mean I do generally know my way around image processing, and I am a semi-pro photographer (as in I don’t make a living on it, but I have sold several $thousand in photos to organizations like the BBC) — so again, I know my way generally around image processing.

I also never claimed that it was Hoagland nor Bara who created the initial image.

Seventh Paragraph – Original Image Sources

The seventh paragraph can be summarized as Mike conceding the point that he does not know the origins of the original image, nor the LPI (Lunar & Planetary Institute) scan. He states that both are JPGs and that “to do a proper analysis, anyone accusing Mr. Hoagland or myself of fraud would have to obtain a research quality original of AS11-38-5564 and do a high-resolution scan of it under controlled conditions.” Mike does not trust NASA (“based only on [Stuart’s] irrational bias towards NASA”) that the LPI is a representative scan.

I will actually concede this point, as well, if one wants to be truly 100% objective. I would state that most normal people would agree with me that the LPI scan represents the original image versus a small section showing a ziggurat that pops up on an internet forum. But, Mike’s thesis is that he can demonstrate the LPI scan is what has been altered, and that his represents the original more faithfully, so he needs to provide evidence for that as that is the extraordinary claim being made.

Similarly, again, I did not accuse Mike nor Richard of fraud. I stated that someone who made it and represented it as an original was making a fraudulent claim based upon the evidence I showed.

I will also state, for the record, that JPGs are “research-quality” very frequently in planetary science. Global mosaics we use of the Moon, Mars, Mercury, etc. are often distributed as JP2 (JPG-2000) file format, which admittedly is less lossy than a normal JPG. But that’s again a side-point.

At this stage, Mike has yet to answer my three main points.

Edited to Add (08/08/2012): As James Oberg mentioned in the comments, and I’ve heard Richard Hoagland claim many times, Mike and Richard supposedly have a set of near-original copies of all Apollo images. Why Mike then relied on an internet game forum post for the “original” or even on LPI is a mystery.

Eighth Paragraph – Noise

This was part of my three main points — the observation that Richard’s version had more noise in it than the LPI scan which is usually an indication of a later generation image, not one close to the original. It is also something that can be added in deliberately to try to make determination of image alteration more difficult. Again, I mention that as a possibility, I did not accuse anyone of that.

Anyway, Mike first makes the point that I “was working with Hoagland’s enhancement of my enhancement.” Very true. Mike, if you would like to send me the original, I’ll work from it. I now have the version from the 2008 “The Murky News” blog you linked to. It’s basically a lower-contrast version than the one Richard presented.

Then Mike has some mis-statements:

“The reason there is more noise in the original Ziggurat image “as1120pyramid20smallue2.jpg” is that it was probably scanned from an original and then cropped, enlarged, processed, and then prepared for publishing on the web. This is easy to see by the 72 DPI resolution, which is standard for images on the internet. This process will invariably make an image a bit noisier, but also easier to upload and download from. There is nothing nefarious or questionable about this. In fact, the “Save for Web” tool in Photoshop automatically changes the document resolution from say, 300 Dots Per Inch (the resolution of AS11-38-5564 on the LPI website image) to 72 DPI. This alone will induce noise at deep levels in the image, and contrary to Mr. Robbins assertion, is indicative of nothing except his desire to deceive his readers into thinking there’s something unusual about it. Jpeg’s are always noisy. It’s as simple as that.”

Okay, first sentence there, yes — if you enlarge something, you WILL introduce noise. I don’t know what the original image would have been that this person on this random forum posted his ziggurat from – and neither do you. Any enlargement is subject to speculation, it is not necessarily true nor false.

A 72 PPI (pixels per inch — dpi = dots per inch and is what printers do) image means nothing in terms of quality of an image nor whether it will have noise introduced. Say, for example, I have a “10-inch by 10-inch image at 300 PPI.” That means that it’s actually 3000 by 3000 pixels. I can make it a 72 PPI image without losing any information by simply making it 41.6667 by 41.6667 inches at 72 PPI.

Similarly, if you shrink an image (such as in the above example if I did make it 10″x10″ at 72 PPI so it’s only 720×720 pixels), then you necessarily REDUCE the noise. You lose a heck of a lot of detail, but by the definition of how image noise works, you will decrease the noise.

This is why, in astronomy, we often do not use detectors at native resolution even though “more pixels is better” is what is commonly thought — when we bin 2×2 or 3×3 or whatever, by combining the pixels, you reduce the noise by the square-root of the counts. The noise is inherently ±SQRT(counts). So, say Pixel A has a value (where “value” here is number of photons recorded) of 10(±3.2), B has 12(±3.5), C has 9(±3), D has 13(±3.6). Combining them (reducing the image size to 50%) gives you a value of 11 at that new pixel with a noise of only ±1.7 — reducing the noise by around 2x. (10+12+9+13 = 44, SQRT(44) ≈ 6.63 … then since we’re averaging 4 pixels together, divide by 4: 44/4 = 11, and 6.63/4 ≈ 1.7) The Google search for this is “Poisson counting statistics” or “Poisson statistics.”

As to “Jpeg’s are always noisy,” that is also a factually incorrect though usually technically correct, but as-stated it is misleading. The JPEG format standard, as defined, does permit lossless compression (so factually incorrect), though it is rarely implemented (so technically usually correct). But there are different levels of JPG compression. You can take a 1 MB TIFF image and save it as a 1 MB almost-lossless JPG. Or you can save it as a 100 KB highly lossy and very noisy JPG. I provide an example of this below (page down a bit).

When saving images, I almost always save as best-quality JPG, and that’s what many professional print shops request for printing. Rather than trying “to deceive [my] readers,” I was pointing out a fact: There is more noise in the Richard’s version than the LPI version.

Mike at this point has not adequately demonstrated that the noise level in his version with a ziggurat means it’s more original than the LPI version.

Edited to Add (08/08/2012): At the moment, Mike is wondering on his Facebook page whether he should respond to my critique in this post, and he also linked to an article he (I think) wrote on Richard’s website. Explaining why he is mistaken in that article is not the subject of this post, but there are a few things correct, including: “One of the acts of processing … involved “Downsizing”. What this does is reduce data present in the image. The ostensible reason for this is to “reduce some of the noise” … .” He also states, “The image is sized down by interpolation by a factor of two to reduce some of the noise.” So, yeah, Mike, you should read your own articles.

Eighth through Eleventh Paragraphs – Did I Add Noise?

Mike makes a statement: “What Mr. Robbins didn’t tell you is that a large chunk of the “noise” that appears in the image he “processed” was deliberately induced – by him.”

Obviously when I read that (and I’m writing this as I’m reading his blog, so I’ve not read ahead), I was intrigued. Apparently, Mike does not understand noise. He makes much ado about my stating that I reduced Richard’s image to 85.28% of his original. Which, again, by definition REDUCES the noise in an image. Instead, Mike claims, “In fact, anyone who knows anything about image enhancement knows that scaling/reducing an image induces more noise and reduces detail by design.” (emphasis his)

Yes, it will reduce some detail. That is true. But at 85.28%, it will not change the detail enough to say “oh look, there’s a pyramid there” versus “what happened to the pyramid?!” and it WILL REDUCE the noise by roughly 8ish%.

Mike continues: “Any competent image enhancement specialist would have enlarged the NASA image instead to bring it in line with the size of the original Ziggurat image. This upsampling process would have the effect of actually making the NASA image better, rather than making the original enhancement worse.” (emphasis his)

Again, this last sentence is factually incorrect. The first sentence can be quibbled about whether one should have scaled the LPI image up or Richard’s down, I chose to scale his down to give it the benefit of the doubt with noise. One can see in any of the “original” ziggurat images that Mike posted that the shadows of his have a significant amount of noise, and that detail has been lost over the majority of the image (look at small, lit craters in the original versus his).

But I’m sorry, Mike, your statement that upsampling makes an image better is factually and demonstrably false. You cannot get more information than was there originally. I would encourage anyone to do any teensy bit of research into this and you will find that I am correct on this matter and Mike is not. That whole thing about “zooming in” on CSI or Star Trek or whatever show where you can keep increasing the size ad infinitum is not possible in real life. I demonstrate this below, as well (scroll down a lot).

12th-14th Paragraphs

The next paragraph is where Mike accuses me of deliberately trying to deceive my readers/watchers ’cause apparently you all are too stupid to read up on this yourself. The next paragraph says that I made another huge mistake.

14th-15th Paragraphs – Histograms

This is a point that I will say right off the bat that Mike’s statements in the next two paragraphs are correct. I also figured that he might hone in on this point, so I was not unprepared.

It’s the next paragraph (the one that starts with “There, at the far left …”) where we again start to have some factual misstatements.

First, Mike claims, “In fact, color zero and the next few colors over (near absolute black) make up more than 33% of the entire image.” No. Actually, 0 makes up 7.40915% of the pixels in the image. This is understandable – and expected – with a sun that’s relatively low on the horizon – so you see a lot of deep shadows – and you have the blackness of space taking up a corner of your image. The next several shades – in fact, the darkest 10% (so 0-25 out of 255 colors) make up only 11.519755% of the pixels. Sorry, Mike, not 33%. (And to those wondering how I determined this, I took the image into graphing/data analysis software, made a simple histogram of the 1.521 million pixels, the histogram being in intervals of 1 from 0-255, and then I divided by the number of pixels. That gives you the % that each shade is in the whole image.)

Mike then states:

“What that means is that somebody put a lot of black and near black into the NASA image. Because in real life, almost nothing in any image is ever absolute black or white. So to find that (by far) the biggest number of pixels is absolute, perfect black is more than a little suspicious. On a properly processed image, the histogram should be pretty much a bell curve, bulging in the middle and then dropping off at both ends.”

Again, this is factually incorrect. I should know – I was processing several lunar images earlier today. In one that was taken when the sun was around 50° above the horizon, there was a small region of very bright crater ejecta. (South Ray crater, visited by the Apollo 16 astronauts.) The histogram is displayed with the image, below. As you can see, properly processed LINEARLY, this image has a very large amount of dark grey in order to fully capture the dynamic range of the bright ejecta. You can change this by stretching the shadows and compressing the highlights, which makes it a non-linear stretch, such as in the comparison (below).

M144524996R - Curves Example and Low Compression

M144524996R – Curves Example and Low Compression

M144524996R - Curves Example and High Compression

M144524996R – Curves Example and High Compression

I’ll state that this is only one example of a possible adjustment one could do to this image, but it also shows how, again, in any kind of manipulation you LOSE data. See that saw-tooth pattern in the blue in the histogram showing the adjusted image? That’s because when I increased the darker colors, mapping them to brighter colors, it left holes. There was no information there at those colors to begin with so it had no information to put there.

Think of it this way: You have colors ranging from 0 to 100. You want to increase the lower 25% to map them to the lower 50%. That means 0 stays 0, 1 becomes 2, 2 becomes 4, original 3 becomes 6, 4 becomes 8, etc. Notice: You’re missing, now, the shades of 1, 3, 5, 7, etc. Meanwhile, you’ve compressed the rest of the range (25%-100%) into just 50% of the range, so while you won’t get a saw-tooth effect, you’ll still have lost information. As in, the original 25, 26, and 27 will all be compressed into just 50 and 51. The original 28, 29, and 30 shade will now be mapped only into 52 and 53. Etc.

(Edited to Add (08/08/2012): Note — I am fully aware that many algorithms when doing this will interpolate and try to fill in those holes by examining surrounding pixels and trying to smooth things out. As I explained when increasing image size, this is an algorithmic estimate, and it canNOT ADD information to the image. In the example above, I chose an algorithm that does not interpolate to give you an understanding of the most basic idea of how this works.)

Or, let’s say you take a photo of, say, the Grand Canyon after sundown, and a waxing gibbous moon is over it. You might want to set your exposure to something fairly shortish so that the canyon only takes up the lower 1/3 of the brightness levels of the image, and then the moon is in the upper 5%. That’s a perfectly exposed photo and one that beautifully would detail the scene, but the histogram would in no way show the bell curve with the peak in the middle.

Apparently, Mike has an interesting notion of a “properly processed image.”

And, incidentally, I’m killing two birds with one stone here. The first image set above is a near-lossless JPG save (quality 12), while the bottom is a highly lossy one (quality 1). Obviously you can still see a lot of detail in the high-quality, and you see a lot of artifacts in the other.

Finally, as I’ve also mentioned, on the Moon, shadows are almost always very, very, very black. The odd situation would be the case where a pure shadow DOES display anything other than 0 black or very very close to it.

Next Few Paragraph Blocks – Proof?

Mike then states, “So what’s the most likely reason for this? I can think of only one. Somebody got this “official” NASA scan, took a paintbrush tool, set it to color zero, or absolute black, and went to town on it. And I can prove it.”

As I said, I will examine any evidence he provides.

The next several paragraphs are something that I expected, and I will say at the beginning here that I agree in principle with the fact that the NASA image appears to have clipped shadows and highlights. What I disagree with is Mike’s conclusion: “that can only mean one thing; they were painted over by someone at NASA with a black paintbrush tool.”

Why? A couple reasons. First, Mike says that the west wall shadow (see my original third point) – which is actually to the East because the image is flipped 180°(ish) relative to the lunar coordinate system – “casts a dark – but not completely black — shadow into the depression below.”

This is factually incorrect. Given the sun angle of the image, the “West” wall itself should not be casting any shadow, it’s the building for the wall should be in complete shadow. Again, see my original third point. It’s the wall of the crater that is casting the shadow into itself, as all crater walls do at any angle where the sun is low enough. The shadow length is the length of shadow we would expect from that crater in LPI’s version.

Second, we can go to ANY other spacecraft image of this site and see that the ziggurat is not there, that it is a crater, as expected from the LPI version. I’ll refer you again to the video I made where I show the wide-angle camera shot of the site and the narrow-angle camera shot of the site. Okay, for fun, here’s the WAC:

M118715682M - 300% Crop of "Ziggurat Area"

M118715682M – 300% Crop of “Ziggurat Area”

Note that I blew this up to 300%. Notice all that pixelation and how it appears kinda soft? That’s because, gee, when you increase the size of an image, you can’t increase detail, it does NOT make it more clear, despite what Mike claimed. But suffice to say, that “X” between several craters is where the ziggurat is supposed to be. That larger shadow at the top is the shadow cast by Mike’s alleged ziggurat. It’s a crater.

Mike then quotes from Adobe (the company that makes Photoshop) and, in the context of the rest of his blog, it seems as though Adobe is confirming his conspiracy.

As I stated at the beginning of this section, I will agree with Mike in principle that the original photo negative would likely have shown more of a range over a VERY few “pixels” as you go into those shadows, but the fact that the image from LPI shows pure black is definitely not proof of a conspiracy nor deliberate tampering. Very, very likely, the scanning software or whatever pipeline they had in place did an automatic clip — this is very, very common to clip the lower and upper 0.1%. It is not evidence of a conspiracy and, rather, is the default. One needs to present evidence against the null hypothesis (that being the LPI version is more original), and Mike has not done that.

Mike goes on with:

“Oh, I’m aware that the deceptive Mr. Robbins has tried to cover his ass by claiming that because of the lighting conditions on the Moon some areas are absolute black. But the fact is that, contrary to his fallacious claims that there are “no crater wall nor mountain to scatter light onto it,” there is a very bright, sunlit area just to left of the selection marquee that should be scattering plenty of light into the shadowed area, but isn’t.”

Mike, all you have to do is look anywhere in that – or ANY other similar image at ANY crater from this set – and you will see that the shadowed parts of the craters are not lit by scattered light from the highlighted wall. That is a factual statement of observation, and I challenge anyone to find fault with it*.

Moving on, Mike continues to mock my Photoshop skillz with his wiked kewel knowledge of the “Shadows/Highlights” tool. Impressive! (Yes, if you didn’t get the sarcasm, I know of this tool.) It shows nothing new that he didn’t demonstrate before — the black shadows in the LPI version are black with a few pixels right around the transition a wee bit shade of grey. Due to roughness of the lunar regolith, you will not get an exact point of transition, but it’s pretty close. As opposed to what Mike claims: “What this means is that Robbins [sic] assertion about there being “no light scattering” in the area is also proven wrong. Absolutely, completely wrong.”

No, Mike, it’s not scattering, it’s due to the roughness of the terrain. The actual shadowed part of the crater, as opposed to the few meters of transition due to rough terrain, IS in pure shadow.

So to wrap-up this section of the post, I can do it with a picture:

AS11-38-5564 Photo

AS11-38-5564 Photo, Shadows of Mike Bara’s

What I’ve done here is what Mike did with the LPI version, but with his shadowed area. What it shows is that the shadow is noisy. It should be a very, very narrow range of just a few shades of grey. Instead, it is a bell-curve (roughly) around a non-zero value that covers over 6% the greyscale range but about 9% the dynamic range the image actually uses. And is EXACTLY what you would expect from classic noise.

*Yes, there are a very few cases – in fact I found one today – where you can have very steep, fresh crater walls on the Moon and they will reflect SOME light into the shadowed region, but you have to overexpose the rest of the image to see it. I can provide the two examples that I know of if really necessary.


Mike starts his summary with:

“Which makes Mr. Robbins and his petty, venal lap dog “expat” flat, dead wrong. On all counts. But I won’t hold my breath waiting for an apology from the Confederacy of Dunces that are the “pseudoscience” attack crowd.

I’ll again state that the name-calling really shows who the petty person is in this discussion. “Expat” is not my lap dog, rather I met him on Phil Plait’s blog and invited him onto my podcast to interview about some other mistakes of Mike’s.

Mike summarizes with a few other points (all quotes, numbering mine):

  1. we may not know the exact origins of the original Daedalus Ziggurat
  2. we know with absolute certainty that the NASA version of AS-11-38-5564 has been deliberately faked to hide something from us
  3. they first tried to hide the Ziggurat by reducing the contrast to delete key visual clues
  4. they took out the airbrush tool, set it to absolute black, and started spraying away

1. I agree and have never claimed otherwise.

2. I disagree for reasons explained above. It is up to Bara to provide evidence that NASA faked something, and if Mike knew anything about normal image processing pipelines – some of which I’ve written – then he would know that everything he pointed out (mainly the shadows) has a much more common explanation. In cases like this, one must supply enough evidence to reject the null hypothesis, the null hypothesis being that the image is what was originally presented by NASA.

3. Mike must mean “increasing the contrast,” because reducing would give the result I showed you with South Ray crater. Regardless, see my explanation above for why this and …

4. … this are not adequately demonstrated.

Last Four Paragraphs

The next paragraph of Mike’s summary includes things such as, “the sky above has been backed out, obviously to hide evidence of the glass ruins.” The remainder is pretty much attacking me. I’ll reiterate that no where have I actually attacked Mike and Richard, and you can read my post discussing this kind of “hate.”

The next paragraph states:

“What I have proven here is that the chief critics of the Daedalus Ziggurat are not only wrong, they are foolishly and sloppily wrong. Either they didn’t want to study the images in the depth that I did before releasing it to Mr. Hoagland, or they simply lacked the intellectual capacity to do so. I lean towards the latter, but let’s face it, buffoons like Mr. Robbins and his expat are just haters who attack everything we do, no matter how many times we embarrass them. I doubt this will be the last time I choose to respond to these louts, but I certainly hope it’s now obvious they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Well, again, I think to any objective observer, Mike has not succeeded in proving his one main point. He also again falsely states that I’m a “hater.” And of course the further insults.

If we really want to heap on insults, Mike, I could bring up the fact that you don’t know what an ellipse is, you think an annular eclipse is when the moon is at its closest to Earth, that the sun exerts more pull on the Moon than Earth does (it’s less by around 10x — otherwise the Moon would orbit the Sun and not Earth), or other such things. Again, I’m not a “hater,” nor is my intent to attack you, but to show that you have made many factual misstatements.

Final Thoughts

At this point, I normally wrap-up my post with something pithy. To be honest, this response took about two hours plus an hour for editing and I’m out of pithy things. I’ll reiterate, though, the crux of my argument and what you need to answer to show that the structure is real:

  1. Why there is less noise in the NASA original but more noise in Mike’s, and why is there more contrast (more pure black and more saturated highlights) in Mike’s? Both of these pretty much always indicate that the one with more noise and more contrast is a later generation … you can’t just Photoshop in more detail like that.
  2. Why other images of the same place taken by several different craft (including non-NASA ones), including images at almost 100x the original resolution of the Apollo photo, don’t show the feature.
  3. Why the shadowed parts of his ziggurat are lit up when they’re in shadow, on top of a hill, and not facing anything that should reflect light at them?

1. Mike did not satisfactorily answer the first point, making several factual errors about noise in images. I conceded the point about contrast more because I’m tired, though I still will maintain that based on the shadows in the lower left (below the crater), the original shows more of a dynamic range than the version Mike has.

2. This was not addressed in Mike’s post, ergo this point stands unchallenged.

3. This was indirectly addressed by Mike saying that the crater wall would scatter light onto the “West wall” of the ziggurat, but his geometry is not correct for his interpretation to be valid, as I explained in the post. It definitely should not be as bright and obvious as it is, brighter even than a lot of the darker terrain.

So to conclude, my original analysis stands and I think I have refuted Mike’s points as he laid them out in his blog. I have also done so without resorting to any name-calling nor mocking (okay, maybe a teensy bit of mocking, especially in the last paragraph of the previous section).

Oh, and again, that’s Dr. Robbins.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.