Exposing PseudoAstronomy

July 20, 2015

#NewHorizons #PlutoFlyby — The Pseudoscience Flows, Part 4

An eagle-eyed Facebooker on the Facebook page for my podcast (thanks Warwick!) pointed this ‘un out to me on the Before It’s News website. Something like the equivalent of the Daily Mail but with more of a UFO bent.

Apparently there are huge cities on Pluto.

This was one of the pseudosciences that I knew going in was going to be prevalent, though I expected it to be more explicit first from Richard Hoagland and Mike Bara who are more vocal about their pareidolia and reading into image artifacts.

The entire crux of this guy’s arguments is that he sees a blockiness in the released images. He claims that he knows and can prove they are not JPEG artifacts for two reasons:

(1) He’s using a TIFF image and not JPEG, and
(2) the blockiness runs at a diagonal and not parallel to the image edges.

For the second reason, I have two words and two punctuation symbols for you: “Rotate & crop.” To add a a few more words: Most released full-disk images have been rotated such that the north pole is “up” in the image. The spacecraft didn’t take them that way. We rotated them to be consistent. Therefore, the original blocky compression artifacts run parallel to the image edges, but now they run diagonal because it’s been rotated! Pretty simple. Yet it has eluded this conspiracist.

Similar elusion is of a simple fact that all because your current file format is one type, that does not mean the original file format was that type. To be more explicit, all because the NASA press release you got this image from happens to be a TIFF on the NASA website, that does not mean that the original image downlinked from the spacecraft was not lossy-compressed JPEG. Which it was. No image downlinked from the craft since July 12 has been lossless, they have all been lossy. Via a 10:1 ratio, meaning they are very lossy. All because I can take a JPEG and use any image software to re-save it as a TIFF does not mean that TIFF will not contain those original JPEG artifacts.

The JPEG blocks are 8 pixels on a side, and many of the released images have been up-sized (I don’t know why, I argued against that, but I have no influence over NASA’s nor APL’s graphics people).

He also assigns the wrong image credit, as “NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.” It’s “NASA/APL/SwRI.” That’s not hard to get right. It’s called reading the caption for the image that you take from NASA.

I’d say that this is one of the sillier conspiracies I’ve heard so far, but it’s really hard to choose. Especially with what’ll be parts 5 and 6.

Perhaps the best line from the video: “No one’s actually accused me of, uh, pixelation, yet, but I’m sure someone will. Uh, some— some spook, probably, some guy from MI6 will come on here … heh! Who knows? Or someone from NASA will try and debunk it. But we’ll see! We’ll see what they have to say.”

Ah…. if only I worked for NASA, or MI6. Maybe I’d drive a nicer car. But it doesn’t take someone from British Intelligence to tell the guy that IT’S JUST BEEN ROTATED!!!

P.S.: Also within the video are other various claims. Like a large hexagonal crater (no, that’s his mind trying to break a circle into line segments), and that NASA purposely brightened the image so that it washes out detail near the pole. No, that’s called the sub-solar point, which is where the sun is directly shining, so you can’t see any topography, only brightness differences of the actual material on the surface. It washes everything out.


  1. I went to the Media Resources page on NASA’s website for NH, and when I hovered my cursor over the image Creative Alien Art was using, it told me the picture was a JPG, with the credits as “NASA/APL/SwRI”, as stated above. It obviously had been rotated to put Pluto’s north as “up”, and it’s noticeably pixellated due to how lossy the picture is. JPL’s website only talks about NH as it relates to their missions, with no links to the JPG photo he used (at least none I could find), let alone changed to a TIFF format.

    All I can guess is this guy’s trying to get a jump on the, “I found artifacts of civilization on this planet we just sent a probe to and photographed” bandwagon, so he can get the gullible to pay him for his insights, instead of the other usual suspects. I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes out with an ebook very soon, padded with even more irrational thinking and pareidolia.

    Comment by Rick K. — July 20, 2015 @ 9:17 am | Reply

    • Interesting. I assumed that some of the annotated image releases were TIFF, or perhaps in the Photojournal based on the image ID he flashed up. (Quick Check) Yup, see here. Photojournal supplies TIFF and JPEG regardless of how the file was originally submitted. He used PIA19708.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — July 20, 2015 @ 9:25 am | Reply

      • Thank you for finding it — I missed that page entirely. You’re right, it offers a TIFF or JPEG version. NASA obliged by providing it for CAA.

        Comment by Rick K. — July 21, 2015 @ 7:01 am

  2. I just listened to the podcast, I think you are wrong in claiming this individual is Australian, aside from the accent (Which actually proves nothing either way.), he mentions MI6 as coming to get him, if he was Australian he would be worrying about ASIO (Though with the way US conspiracy culture has invaded Australia theres a greater than even chance he would mention the CIA instead.).

    Comment by Graham — August 28, 2015 @ 11:12 pm | Reply

    • Yeah, I wondered about MI6. You agree that the accent was Australian, though?

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — August 31, 2015 @ 12:13 pm | Reply

      • No he sounded like someone from Britain.

        Comment by Graham — September 2, 2015 @ 10:04 am

      • Darn …

        Comment by Stuart Robbins — September 2, 2015 @ 10:11 am

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