Exposing PseudoAstronomy

December 2, 2012

Richard C. Hoagland Sees Pink Energy Beam that’s “Proved to NOT Be a Hoax”


Edited to Add (August 15, 2015): See this post for new developments.

Richard C. Hoagland, the official Coast to Coast AM science advisor (shudder), was on C2C last night for the first time with new-to-2011 host John B. Wells.

Among the images that Richard provided for the audience is the one below, and the caption was taken directly from the C2C website:

Hoagland's Energy Pyramid

A set of tourist’s photographs [of the famed Kulkulkan Pyramid at Chitzen Itza] taken last year (and, after investigation, proved to NOT be a hoax), showed an amazing beam of pink energy emanating from the top of the pyramid during an afternoon thunderstorm, apparently triggered by the electric fields of nearby lightning.

By the way, Richard, that’s Kukulkan, not Kulkulkan.

Lunar Ziggurat Redux?

The fact that he’s presenting this image as genuine is one thing. But the further fact that he writes in there, “and, after investigation, proved to NOT be a hoax,” is icing. I mean, seriously? Even the lunar ziggurat looked more genuine than this does.

Some digging shows that this was not taken “last year,” but back in 2009. July 24, 2009, actually — or at least as far as I can tell. In fact, at that link, we can get a higher-resolution version:



Manipulation Between Hoagland’s and the “Original”

One can already see that either Hoagland or someone else before it got to Hoagland had manipulated the image: Contrast had been increased, colors saturated, and things overall darkened except for the beam (look at the clouds to the lower left of the pyramid in Hoagland’s versus the 2009 version — they’re darker but the beam is lighter). One can easily do this with a Curves and a Saturation layer in Photoshop or similar graphics software.

It also appears as though a rectangular area of grass around the girls has been lightened relative to the surrounding grass. In the 2009 version, the grass is of generally uniform luminosity (brightness). On a brightness scale of 0-255, the G (green) value is around 40-50 for the grass throughout the image. But in Hoagland’s the G is around 40-45 on the periphery of the image, but 50-60 near the girls — about 20% brighter.

In fact, this extends not just from the grass, to to the sky surrounding the steps of the pyramid itself. In the sky to the right of the “original” version from Flickr, the greyscale value is roughly 105-115. In Hoagland’s version, it’s around 140-150 until you get close to the pyramid, and there it’s 160-175 or so.

I’m NOT saying that it was Richard Hoagland who made these changes. What I am saying is that it’s possible he did, but it’s definite that someone did between the 2009 version and what he presented last night.

Manipulation of the Original to the “Original”

There has also been some clear manipulation of the original that was posted to the Flickr stream that I’m calling the “original” that’s the real subject of debate.

The most obvious manipulation is to the left-hand side. It’s smeared. This is not something that can be caused by movement when holding the camera — if the camera moved, then the whole image would be blurry, not just the left 10% or so. This has nothing to do with the beam, but it clearly shows that the image shown in 2009 was NOT original as-taken-by-the-camera.

Then there’s of course the obvious — the “beam” of pink. I can’t prove it’s fake without the original or without a confession; all I can do is present a case that it’s more likely to be fake than real. Other than it looking fake, it defies some basic assumptions. Well, one mainly: It’s straight up-and-down with the image, but the image is not straight up-and-down relative to gravity.

What I mean is that the person who took the photo did not have the camera exactly vertical, it was tilted by a few degrees clockwise. You can tell this by the pyramid looking tilted and by measuring the should-be vertical walls up to the top of the pyramid — they’re tilted by a few degrees.

The beam, however, is not. It is exactly vertical relative to the edges of the photograph. That means that, if this were real, the beam would not be vertical, but it would have been tilted. Even the aliasing (slight shading as you transition from the beam to the sky) is exactly vertical, the same column of pixels up and down. That very strongly implies that someone made a rectangle in Photoshop, filled it with a gradient, and set the blending mode to color. Or some similar process.

In fact …

Look! A Beam of Yellow Greed Energy Shooting from the US Capitol Building!

Beam of Yellow Greed Energy from the US Capitol Building

Beam of Yellow Greed from the US Capitol Building

Looks about as genuine as the pink energy beam from the Kukulkan pyramid.

Moving On …

Searching around the internet finds that this has been discussed before. For example, there’s a Project Avalon Forum thread on the topic from 2010 that’s three pages long. These are people who really want to believe this is real. But even some of them are having issues with it. Things that jump out at me as highly suspect:

  • Originals have not been released for independent analysis.
  • The tourists claim that they did not see it by eye, only in the photo1.
  • Can’t find the original supposed photographer(s).
  • EXIF data (metadata) on the image which people were using to claim it’s original can be easily changed with software.
  • One of the original proponents/presenters has a history of hoaxing.
  • It was presented by a UFO researcher as part of claims for UFO evidence, not Richard’s would-be pink hyperdimensional energy triggered by a thunderstorm.
  • The photo was allegedly studied by “experts,” but who those people are and what experience they have is never mentioned nor referenced.

And that’s from a 10-minute read of the forum thread. Additional discussion here and here.

1This is a big red flag (similar with “ghost orbs” and other stuff). Cameras are designed to mimic the human eye. It wouldn’t do well for them to image things the eye can’t see because people take photos wanting to remember what they saw. To miss a giant pink energy beam strains credulity. The idea of, “Well, maybe it was just really brief and they managed to catch it in this photo!” also strains credulity because of the requisite timing — they’d have to somehow be lucky enough to click that iPhone shutter button at that exact moment of the beam they didn’t see with their eye and that (likely) 1/100th of a second happened to coincide with this incredibly brief burst of energy.

Final Thoughts

As with the ziggurat, I am NOT stating that Richard made this himself, that he hoaxed it. I’m also NOT stating with 100% certainty that this is a hoax.

What I am saying boils down to three primary items:

1. The version of the image that Richard presented last night shows significant manipulation from the “original.” Someone must have done the manipulation, and it may have been him.

2. The “original” version shows several red flags that indicate image manipulation and that the “beam” was placed in the image after it was taken with software. It is also easily duplicated in basic image processing software.

3. The original is not available for independent analysis, and the custody history of the photo raises numerous red flags.

In private conversation, I’d say this is clearly fake. In pure objective discussion, I present you with the above, and I think that the most likely explanation is that this was hoaxed by someone and is not a real phenomenon.

That Richard presents it as “proved to NOT be a hoax” – as I said in my original post on the lunar ziggurat, shows that (in my opinion) Richard C. Hoagland is incompetent with image analysis. If he or someone else were to explain the above red flags with something plausible, I’m all ears.



  1. I think Richard Hoagland watches way too much science fiction.

    Comment by Robert — December 2, 2012 @ 2:28 pm | Reply

    • *I* think Richard Hoagland watches too much SyFi channel…which is not quite the same thing. Next from Hoagland, Inc – The Sharktopus on Mars!

      Comment by David Johnson — December 2, 2012 @ 3:09 pm | Reply

  2. Do you think that this could be a rolling shutter artifact? I’ve seen similar artifacts when photographing lightning and it looks like there’s lightning in the background of this photo. It also makes sense that the column stops at the pyramid since if the lightning was far enough away in the background the lighting conditions on the front of the pyramid wouldn’t perceptibly change. The fact that the column is perfectly straight up and down and the photo is taken in portrait orientation also fits perfectly with the rolling shutter hypothesis.

    Comment by Newton's Bucket — December 2, 2012 @ 4:04 pm | Reply

    • A few others have pointed out that possibility. That is a possible explanation. But to me, the fact that it does stop right at the top of the pyramid (the lightning does not), and it’s centered on the top of the pyramid, makes me think that this was more deliberate. But, if you want to go with the assumption that the original story – that they didn’t see this when it was photographed AND that it’s not a deliberate hoax – then the rolling shutter artifact makes sense.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — December 2, 2012 @ 4:07 pm | Reply

  3. Hoagland’s findings and ‘research’ has always been a bunch of bull and he knows it. Anything to keep up those C2C radio appearances, public appearances, and to keep the cash flowing.

    Comment by SFL — December 2, 2012 @ 4:15 pm | Reply

  4. Hi, I have been seeing yourblog and posts for some time and have NOT observed you making any comment on need for reporting MATERIALS AND METHODS in any claim for scientific inquiry/valid paper/thesis.

    The first question any body ought to ask any body presenting whatevermaterial for my attention goes through the filter, “what material and what mehod did you use (including Dr.Stuart) for the stuff you are dishing out” Obviously the Hoagland guy has used a camera – he should give make etc. etc. and capability. How was image processed after capture – what software / computer facilty was used. It’s my guess he uses a screen picture pixel measurement tool (a ruler) and or a good image processnig program such as GIMP. With this it ought to be clear to serious investigators that seeing pictures whether made by NASA or anybody must be accompanied by full details . In fact I think there must be international law having people including Government the full details of equipment – make / brand etc. If hoaxers prey on ignorance of people so do the scientists, universities and agencies claiming some kind of superior intellect! The most obvious thing this Hoagland guy dishes out to cretins is that when he captures the two native children with the pyramid background and his ribbon/ruler THAT THE CHILDREN’s FACES ARE ABSOLUTELY NATURAL AND ORDINARY. DO YOU THINK THEY WILL BE WHEN STRANGE HAPPENINGS ARE GOING ON? OR IS THE PUBLIC TURNING CRETIN THAT SUCH THINGS WILL SHOCK RACE OF ONE KIND AND NOT THE OTHER – I AM DISGUSTED!

    Comment by sleeping8 — December 2, 2012 @ 5:44 pm | Reply

  5. Although this New Age meme of light beams emanating from the tops of pyramids has peaked in the past couple years, I don’t recall any such hoaxes, photos, or claims ever made BEFORE the Luxor Las Vegas hotel and casino began operating its sky beam in 1993. The Luxor sky beam only operates at night, yet the edge of the beam of the Luxor light beam is not nearly as crisp as this photo: another indication of photoshop.

    Comment by Professor Pious — December 4, 2012 @ 9:33 pm | Reply

  6. Competing claims as to what the photo signifies? Maybe we need to get Mr. Hoagland and the UFO researcher to arm wrestle to see whose assertion can continue from this point on. Then the rest of us can focus our investigations on the winner.

    I see that we are once again relying on anonymous “experts”. Wasn’t there a movie I once saw, that had a character saying, “We have top men looking into this…TOP MEN!”

    Comment by Rick K. — December 5, 2012 @ 6:04 pm | Reply

    • A movie and a parody by Family Guy!

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — December 5, 2012 @ 6:06 pm | Reply

  7. A little more food for thought. I can’t verify without software, but I suspect if you bring them into individual layers and cut away half of the top layer, the remainder will line up. I can approximate this by crossing my eyes and bringing the two images together. They line up as well as my eyes can discern: same framing, same angle.

    I only mention it because I’ve never seen anyone put a camera phone on a tripod, and there’s no way those were taken handheld. If it weren’t for the clouds, I’d suggest that the girls on the right were added to the photo on the left along with the beam (and maybe the lightning).

    Comment by james — December 12, 2012 @ 7:57 am | Reply

    • That was my first thought, too. I put them on top of each other and did a difference, and there are some differences in framing.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — December 12, 2012 @ 10:21 am | Reply

  8. On the subject of Hoagland and his lunar claims. James Oberg does a good job of showing just where those ideas came from, the document below is an excerpt from a book on UFOs Oberg wrote covering various claims, including pre-Hoagland paredolia:

    Click to access ufoosm-myth-myst-of-moon.pdf

    Comment by Graham — December 15, 2012 @ 9:14 pm | Reply

  9. […] example from the Exposing PseudoAstonomy blog, where a “beam of light” was photographed emanating from a pyramid in Mexico. Astrophysicist Stuart Robbins explains in some detail why the photo is most likely a […]

    Pingback by 10 Things New Agers Don’t Understand About Science — Part 3: We are now more capable than ever of proving a miracle | Spirituality is No Excuse — July 12, 2013 @ 5:36 pm | Reply

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