Exposing PseudoAstronomy

September 23, 2015

A Piece of Lint Becomes a 10-Mile High Tower on the Moon


I subscribe to Expat’s “Dork Mission” blog in my RSS reader, and so I’m privy to people other than Richard Hoagland that he has made an hobby of watching and looking for perversions of rationality. One such set of claims is by a self-titled “civilian intelligence analyst,” Robert Morningstar.

Robert Morningstar (or M* as he occasionally signs things and I’ll use for short) was on Richard Hoagland’s radio program on September 3, and on the program he discussed many things, but there was one in particular that I’d seen Expat discuss before, but I’d never really investigated myself.

The claim is so bizarre that I wanted to share it with you.

The Claim: Big Ben on the Moon

Robert has made this claim for at least a year, that he has found what he terms “Big Ben” (named for the famous London landmark), but on the Moon. He found this while analyzing lunar photographs. The object is 10 miles high, according to his analysis.

It was only when I heard how he did his analysis and I looked at the photos he presents, myself, that I decided this blog post was worth it.

The Photo

First off, it’s difficult to know what photographs he used in terms of catalog numbers. Robert, like many in his field of anomaly hunting, does not provide documentation to allow independent analysis, rather he only presents the image in and of itself. This also means I can’t go find other versions of it that might be earlier generations, nor can I find the highest quality nor resolution.

Based on the fiducials (crosshairs) faintly visible in the photograph, I think this was Apollo. From searching through Expat’s blog, I found I was correct, it’s Apollo image AS17-M-2366.

To wit, here is the photograph that he claims hosts “Big Ben,” which I got at higher resolution than from Richard Hoagland’s site from another site where M* was interviewed:

AS17-M-2366 Early Scan

AS17-M-2366 Early Scan (click to embiggen)

If you don’t see much, that’s not surprising. What Robert is calling “Big Ben” is a small apparent bright protrusion from the upper-left of the moon’s limb. Here is the enlargement that he provided to Richard:

“Big Ben on the Moon” According to Robert Morningstar (click to embiggen)

He Analyzed a Photograph of His Computer Screen

Let that heading sink in a moment. What Robert did, as he stated on-air, and is evident from the obvious slightly rotated-from-vertical pixels in the second image, is he took the first photo (likely higher resolution than I have, but again I don’t know what the photo is so I can’t look), he likely enlarged it on his computer screen (if he didn’t, that doesn’t matter for this analysis), and he then took a digital camera and took a photograph of his computer screen.

It’s from that photograph of his computer screen that he then did any and all subsequent analysis.

This is one of those cases where I’m literally at a loss for words. It’s almost a situation of Not Even Wrong. To put it as succinctly and briefly as I can, he has introduced a substantial amount of completely unnecessary artifacts into the image that the idea that he thinks this is a proper way to analyze an image makes me question every single other claim he might ever make in the future.

Put another way, he has somewhat close-ish to original “pixels” in the original image (again, this is a somewhat early scan of an early copy of an Apollo photograph). Why would you then go and take a picture of your computer screen and analyze that picture?!


Beyond the ridiculousness of analyzing a photo of his computer screen that was showing a digital image, there is a big red flag that indicates this is simply a bit of contamination (lint, dust, etc.) on the scanner that was used to scan the print: Just under 600 pixels away, there is a very obvious piece of lint on the print, a bright bit that’s 1-pixel-wide that has a slight bend at the end:

Lint in AS17-M-2366

Lint in AS17-M-2366 (click to embiggen)

Lint. Just like “Big Ben.”

And, as others on Expat’s blog have pointed out, in the next frame of that sequence of photographs (AS17-M-2367), from that scan generation, the approximate same pattern of lint has moved off the limb of the moon by what would be ~1000 km:

Moving Lint in Apollo Photograph Scans

Moving Lint

And, in classic pseudoscientific fashion, M* does not look for other scans of the same photograph and show us that the feature is still there, nor does he present us with any images from a half dozen other spacecraft that have photographed the entire moon since Apollo and shown us that the feature is still present.

In fact, towards the former point, Arizona State University is in the process of scanning all the Apollo photographs at much higher resolution than had been done years ago by the Lunar & Planetary Institute (LPI). Here’s the link to AS17-M-2366 where you can download a 1.2 GB version of the image, or you can browse a 660 KB or 11 MB version.

You’ll note that, if you take a look, those pieces of lint are gone. Now I suspect that if confronted by this, Robert would just say that it’s been removed by The Powers that Be to hide it and give fodder to debunkers like me.

Final Thoughts

Here’s the problem: If your only evidence is one version of one photograph, and no other version of that photograph, the next photograph in the series that shows almost the exact same area, nor any other photograph of that area shows the feature, chances are your first photograph is the one that’s wrong, not every other one.

Given that, and given the above, here’s another reason why I don’t have a problem classifying M* as a pseudoscientist. This is a quote from him when he was on a radio program discussing “Big Ben:”

Now these debunkers, they claim that that’s dust on the film, or an anomaly in the emulsion. Again, I’m just showing you a picture that was taken by Apollo 17 — a picture that’s been in the archives for 42 years and I just happen to be the one that found it and recognized it, so I show it to you. And what do you think that looks like? I told you what I think it looks like, so I named it that. I named it “Big Ben on the Moon.”

In that, he completely avoids the content of the criticisms of his claim, and he goes even one more step backwards: He seems unable to even consider that it might not be on the original image: “a picture that’s been in the archives for 42 years.”

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and a feature that looks like lint, only found in one version of one photograph, that looks like lint in other areas of the photograph, and compounded with “analysis” of that feature on a photograph of that image being displayed on a computer screen, does not extraordinary evidence make.



  1. Actually Robert Morningstar’s AS17-M-2366 Early Scan photo is a scan of a photographic print which was made from the flight film. Note the strongly enhanced contrast of this image in comparison to NASA/JSC/ASU’s scan of the actual flight film. This photographic print was made either directly from the flight film, or from a contact dupe of the original flight film. After every Apollo mission, contact dupes and/or internegatives and/or direct prints of the original flight film were immediately made so that they could be distributed to various NASA and research branches before the original flight film was transferred to NASA JSC’s storage freezer. NASA had a clear pipeline for this process, and this pipeline is documented and readily available on the Internet. The point was to get contact dupes, internegatives and photographic prints distributed to various branches of NASA and to research institutions as quickly as possible before the original flight films were transferred to JSC’s storage freezer for safe keeping since the original flight films were considered to be priceless. NASA’s photographic technicians weren’t concerned about any dust which might settle on a piece of photographic paper when a print was made either directly from the flight film, from a contact dupe, or from an internegative. Their job was to get the original flight films duped and/or to get internegatives made, and to get photographic prints made as quickly as possible before transferring the original flight films to frozen storage at JSC.

    A dead giveaway that this is a scan of one of the photographic prints is not only the overall strongly enhanced contrast, but also the tons of artificial stars seen above the moon in the black regions of Morningstar’s photograph. These “stars” literally are mostly the matt finish of the photographic paper of the print, yet some are due to the very slightly worn texture of the matt finish on the photographic print which was subsequently scanned and placed online. Anything in contact with the photographic print will slightly rub the photographic paper and create more of these “stars.” Such as, for example, the mailing envelope in which this print was originally mailed to another branch of NASA or to a research institution.

    Another notable aspect of Morningstar’s “enhanced” version of this photo is that all of the “stars” are trailed. This trailing actually is the matt finish of the photographic paper since the original metric camera exposure was far too short to record any stars.

    A good example of a similar photographic print which was subsequently scanned and placed online is a published scan of a photographic print of the Apollo 15 landing site which was taken by Apollo 15’s Panorama Camera. See:

    In the above linked image, which is a scan of a distributed photographic print made from either the original film or a dupe of Apollo 15’s Panorama Camera film, you can see all of the things which I described above. These things include:

    1. Tons of dust specks and print texture in the dark areas which look like “stars”. Wow. Stars within the shadow areas on the surface of the moon! What will the conspiracy theorists make of that!
    2. Some obvious pieces of lint. Those must be giant dead bodies of some giant worm form! Apparently Frank Herbert, the author of Dune, must have known about giant worms on the moon!
    3. Extremely high contrast in comparison to NASA/JSC/ASU’s scan of the original flight film as seen at: http://wms.lroc.asu.edu/apollo/view?camera=P&image_name=AS15-P-9377.

    There is a separate hoax theory which claims that all of the Apollo moon landings were real — except for Apollo 11. What is a true riot about this particular claim is that the Eagle’s DAC descent and landing film, plus Neil Armstrong’s first two photographs taken during his EVA on the lunar surface, inherently prove that even this first moon landing were real. In fact, the DAC descent and landing films and all of the EVA photographs from all of the Apollo landings inherently prove that all of the moon landings were real. It is mind boggling to me how the average person gets sucked into the hoax claims which are presented by clearly delusional hoax believers. These hoax believers and conspiracy theorists always present “just enough” so-called “evidence” (which always can be readily disproved) to convince otherwise normal people to believe in their claims.

    Comment by GoneToPlaid — September 23, 2015 @ 6:52 pm | Reply

    • Good points, thanks for the info!

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — September 23, 2015 @ 9:30 pm | Reply

  2. It’s not Big Ben. It’s Elvis’s spaceship. I know, because Elvis told me himself (he visits me every other Tuesday, disguised as a walrus) 🙂 Joking aside, I find the proliferation of these ‘conspiracy’ theories to be a disturbing indictment of the human condition – the common factor in all of them, if we boil it down to the basic nature of them all – is a persistent refusal to accept the paradigms of the rest of society, including empirical fact. These conspiracists and ‘independent thinkers’, instead, come up with their own – typically, something that denies the reality of a human achievement such as the Moon landings. I see it as a mechanism of self-validation: the universe threatens them with its complexity, and they have to shrink it down to the scale of their very limited viewpoint. It becomes awkward when their personal self-beliefs start to gain traction among others to the point of impinging on their very real achievements – or worse, personally harassing them. I’m thinking of the time Bart Sibrel confronted Buzz Aldrin outside a hotel room. I’m sure the clip is on YouTube somewhere.

    I never did understand how anybody could fail to believe in the truth of the Moon landings. There is the vast empirical evidence (including personal; for instance, I’m just an ordinary guy and I’ve made connections over the years with someone whose father was the Apollo 11 pad safety officer, and someone else whose Dad was good friends with Armstrong at college, and I bet there are plenty of other people with similar connections). But from the viewpoint of basic analytical logic, Occam’s Razor makes clear that the simplest explanation for the observed evidence is that it happened.

    Comment by Matthew Wright — September 23, 2015 @ 11:37 pm | Reply

  3. That was delicious. This sentence in AM*’s bio, re-posted without apparent irony by Hoagland, is now seen to be quite a joke:

    “Robert is a specialist in photo interpretation, geometric analysis and computer imaging.”

    LOL, as they say. And thanks to GoneToPlaid — I learned something today.

    Comment by expat — September 24, 2015 @ 6:35 am | Reply

  4. love that new word EMBIGGEN.

    Comment by daniel gautreau — September 26, 2015 @ 10:39 am | Reply

    • He stole it from Phil Plait. 🙂

      Comment by expat — September 27, 2015 @ 9:51 am | Reply

      • Not quite. It’s from The Simpsons. “A noble heart embiggens the smallest man.”

        Comment by Stuart Robbins — September 27, 2015 @ 9:56 am

      • It’s a perfectly cromulent word.

        Comment by Trebor — September 28, 2015 @ 8:37 am

  5. Robert Morningstar got the original photo from LPI. More specifically, from the Hi Resolution Image(s) link at the bottom of this page: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/resources/apollo/frame/?AS17-M-2366

    If you download and strongly enhance the gamma of the image from the Hi Resolution Image(s) link on the above web page, you can clearly see that this image is a fairly poor quality scan of a photographic print on matte paper.

    Robert rotated the image 90° counterclockwise and zoomed in on it. Then he apparently clipped the original 256 gray scale dynamic range quite a bit and adjusted the gamma. He did all of this on his wildly uncalibrated CRT computer monitor. Yep, he isn’t even using or can’t afford even a cheap LCD monitor. And then, rather than saving the image, he took a photograph of it with a cheap digital camera! I say that it is a cheap digital camera since the vertical streaking of the “stars” isn’t due to camera movement (which I initially suspected), but instead is due to strong astigmatism within the lens of his cheap digital camera. This astigmatism can be introduced when the master group of optical elements within a digital camera are shifted into macro mode. The mechanical mechanism which shifts the master group can sometimes tilt the master group, resulting in obvious astigmatism.

    The aspect ratio of his CRT computer monitor either is way off by around 134%, or Robert deliberately increased the image’s vertical scale relative to the horizontal scale. After some trial and error, I was able to digitally recreate a nearly identical version of his “Big Ben” photograph, sans the CRT’s RGB mask, by employing a series of whacky image processing steps which no competent image processing expert would normally employ.

    Since the vertical aspect ratio in Robert’s Big Ben photograph is embiggened by approximately 134%, his ten mile high Big Ben tower has to be enshrunkened to only seven and a half miles high.

    Comment by GoneToPlaid — September 27, 2015 @ 11:03 am | Reply

    • Great info and thanks for the analysis. However, I think you might be spending way too much time on this 😉

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — September 27, 2015 @ 11:10 am | Reply

    • what is the gamma of an image?

      Comment by daniel gautreau — September 27, 2015 @ 11:22 am | Reply

      • The simple answer is “the mid tones.” Gamma describes a curve of sensitivity, with the end points fixed and the middle as “lifted” or as “suppressed” as you choose. In photographic terms, adjusting gamma has no effect on the pure whites and pure blacks, but everything in between changes. Increased gamma is a better way to lighten an image than increasing brightness, which lifts everything including the blacks.

        Comment by expat — September 27, 2015 @ 11:46 am

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