Exposing PseudoAstronomy

July 21, 2012

Richard Hoagland’s Ziggurat on the Moon: Hoax or Fraud, but Not Real


During TAM, I met with a listener of my podcast and one of his first requests was “more Hoagland!” So, this post is dedicated to Darrin.

Edit (Aug. 7, 2012): I have posted a 4.5-minute video of the debunking of this on YouTube.

Another Edit (Sept. 25, 2012): This is my wrap-up post on this subject that spanned over a month and 20,000+ words. This post you’re reading now is the first and is what generally shows up first in Google searches. I recommend reading this post, then visiting the last post which contains a list of all others in this series that relate to the lunar ziggurat.

Lunar Anomalies

One of Richard C. Hoagland’s main shticks is to find apparent photographic anomalies and then claim they are artificial things. Face on Mars, glass tubes on Mars/Moon, “Data’s Head” on the Moon, etc. are just a few examples.

Last night, he was on Coast to Coast AM and, courtesy of Expat, here’s a transcript of what Hoagland stated (GN = George Noory, RCH = Richard C. Hoagland):

GN: …will we ever go back to the Moon, Mr Hoagland?

RCH: “Yes, we will. What’s really astonishing, and the reason I wanted to do a little update tonight is… I’ve sent over to Lex, to be posted on the Coast website, an astonishing image taken from orbit … on the lunar far side, on the opposite side of the Moon from the Earth — almost as far away from the Earth as you can get, almost 180° — almost on the equator, just south of the equator, a mile-size — each side is a mile — ziggurat. It looks like an Egyp….a Sumerian pyramid. It’s extraordinary. It’s enormous.

It … you gotta go look because this is just absolutely astonishing — and I’ve spent now several days trying to make sure this is real, and to the best of our analytical abilities it’s real, there’s a whole bunch of little “tells” around it that tell us. For one thing, hoaxes are never subtle. This is subtle. This is the kind of thing that an expert would instantly recognize — and unless you have trained eyes it’s going to take you a minute or two maybe to see it, but once you see it, you’re never going to not see it.

And the most amazing thing, George, is where it’s located. It’s almost exactly opposite the Earth, on the far side of the Moon, where you would put a massive pyramid — because we now know from the Enterprise studies, including what I did with the eclipse here in May — that pyramids amplify torsion field energy enormously.

That’s why there are pyramids all over the world, you were asking your guest last night “Why are there pyramids all over the world? Do they talk to each other?” Yes, they do. They’re linked by hyperdimensional physics — and whatever the reason for this thing being built on the far side of the Moon was — part of it had to be, to look with this energy through the core of the Moon — which we now know from our eclipse studies amplifies torsion energy ENORMOUSLY — and to look through the core at the Earth and to monitor the torsion field changes in the Earth.

If some hoaxer had put this thing on the [..?..] they figured out all the right things to do to put it in the one place in the whole solar system where it would make sense from a hyperdimensional perspective, which is one of the reasons I think it’s real.

And you all ought to go and look at what Lex has posted … and I’ve got Steve Troy working on the footprints, on which orbit.. which astronaut took the picture. It may have been Collins, all by himself in the CM orbiting around the Moon while Neil & Buzz were down on the surface. But this is only a tip of the iceberg, George, as to what they’ve been hiding for 43 years, that we have got to take control of now.”

GN: “You’ve got that right…”

Quick Key Points

Let’s ignore how little this statement by Hoagland makes sense. Let’s ignore all the supposed implications. Let’s focus on just a few key statements (in bold):

I’ve spent now several days trying to make sure this is real, and to the best of our analytical abilities it’s real, there’s a whole bunch of little “tells” around it that tell us. For one thing, hoaxes are never subtle. This is subtle. This is the kind of thing that an expert would instantly recognize — and unless you have trained eyes it’s going to take you a minute or two maybe to see it, but once you see it, you’re never going to not see it.

An Hour of Investigation by Yours Truly

I was processing lunar images this morning for a new project that I hope to finish up soon, and once I set a new batch of images to go, I read my RSS feeds. Expat (a pseudonym), whom I interviewed in Episode 10 of my podcast about Mike Bara (one of Hoagland’s little buddies), had a new post up on his blog Dork Mission entitled, “The Eagle has landed, and Richard Hoagland offers absolute nonsense.” I clicked through and encountered the above transcript plus Expat’s comments.

Expat linked to the original image that Hoagland’s ziggurat came from, Apollo 11 photo AS11-38-5564. You can download a high-resolution scan from the Lunar and Planetary Institute. Which I did. And here’s the data page on the LPI website for that image. And, you can grab Hoagland’s ziggurat from the Coast page.

I spent around a half hour searching for Hoagland’s location, but it did not go well. Without knowing the exact rotation nor scaling, it was difficult to figure out. But, in the comments section of Expat’s post, we eventually got it:

Context of AS11-38-5564 with Hoagland's Ziggurat

Context – AS11-38-5564 with Hoagland’s Ziggurat, black box shows where it is
(click to empyramidate)

For the record, I took the original LPI image and rotated it clockwise 90°. I knew this was the starting point because of the shadows of craters in the image Hoagland presented. After finding the location, I rotated Hoagland’s image by 10.96°, and then I scaled Hoagland’s by 85.28%. I determined these by lining up craters.

Then I created this comparison so you can see the LPI scan and what Hoagland presented:

Comparison of Original and Hoagland Enhancement of Lunar Ziggurat

Comparison of Original and Hoagland Enhancement of Lunar Ziggurat
(click to enhancenate)


First, I will say that I do not know who made the “enhancement.” What I do know is that the original file was entitled “AS11-38-5564-Mike-oirginal-enhanced3.jpg” on Coast to Coast AM‘s website. Since Richard Hoagland used to work, and I believe still sometimes does, with Mike Bara, I’m guessing the image came from Bara. However, Richard is passing it off as his own, or at least hoping you think it’s his because he does not provide any attribution.

So again, I am not saying that it was Richard nor Bara who “enhanced” the image originally, but I would not put it past either of them.

That said, from my work over the past twenty years doing image processing and analysis (yay Photoshop 2.5!), Whomever did the “enhancement” would likely have gone through these steps:

First, they used a poorer quality image (see all the noise and loss of details in small craters?) or later deliberately added noise and reduced the quality.

Second, they darkened the image overall (look at the shadows near the lower left corner).

Then, they increased the contrast (the white spot near the upper middle (a crater highlight) is more saturated in the “enhancement” and covers a bit more area). This could have been combined with the previous step with a basic Curves adjustment.

Finally, they likely did some selective curves/levels adjustment to create the “ziggurat,” or they skipped this step entirely and went right on to just drawing it in.

There is no way you can get a ziggurat as presented without drawing it into this photo.

I figured this out in an hour. Half of that time was spent just locating the thing ’cause Hoagland never provides context, and 2/3 of the remainder was spent making the images I put up here.

Another Obvious Sign of Fraud/Hoax

There are few gradations of light and dark on the Moon because of a lack of atmosphere. If you’re in shadow, you’re in shadow and it’s going to be pitch-black (or almost pitch-black). You could potentially get a little scattered light from a hill that’s farther away, and you could get a teensy bit or Earthshine (though if this was from the far side of the moon, you can’t have earthshine as a source of light).

Now look at the “walls” of the “ziggurat” on the left side. They are in shadow, but they are clearly a lighter shade than the other shadows in the image. There is also no crater wall nor mountain to scatter light onto it. I would argue that the shading as presented is not possible on the Moon and is a fairly clear sign of a hoax/fraud right off the bat.

Finding the actual location in the original image and not having a ziggurat there is a secondary (though important) step.

Final Thoughts

At this point, I will bluntly state that (in my opinion) Richard C. Hoagland is either an incompetent person or a liar based solely upon this instance. That is an objective statement that I am making based upon the available evidence I presented above and explain below.

I justify the former position by again referring to his statement that he spent several days trying to make sure it’s real and to the best of his ability, he determined it’s real. I have shown in the above analysis it is not, unless you want to claim that Hoagland has access to a secret version and the one on the LPI website is the fraud. However, the lower quality and higher noise level of Hoagland’s would indicate to me that he is using a later generation copy the photo (as opposed to more original).

The other alternative is that Hoagland is simply lying. Either he did no analysis and just presented this as it was sent to him (ergo lying about spending several days in analysis), or he created it himself. Based on his previous track record for creating graphics, I personally doubt the latter, but I could easily believe that someone made this, sent it to him, and Hoagland just presented it without doing any of the analysis he claims he did.

Perhaps it was the same person who posted this on the Disclose TV forum back in February 2011, to which, again, Hoagland gives no attribution.

So, there you have it, the latest by Richard C. Hoagland.

Edited to Add …

After much searching, I have located the coordinates at approximately 174.34°E, -8.97°N. There does not appear to be any LRO Narrow Angle Camera images of the region, and you can explore it for yourself at this link. It’s smack dab in the center. This is a WAC image that has the location towards the bottom-center, though it’s actually slightly lower resolution than the original Apollo image (this is 76 m/px). I calculate that the length of the side of the “ziggurat” would be roughly 2 km, in line with Hoagland’s claim.

Also, there appears to be some evidence that this goes back before even 2003 with some posts on some other forums. Regardless, I maintain my opinion, that I think is fairly objective: Hoagland is either a liar (he did not spend days analyzing this, he just went with it), or he is completely incompetent (that he spent days analyzing this and thinks it’s real).

July 17, 2009

The Apollo Moon Hoax: What’s Up with All Those Crosshairs? – Disappearing, Not Centered, and Tilted


Within the class of Apollo moon hoax claims of evidence, there’s the giant category of photography and videography. Within that, there is a reasonable chunk of a few claims that deal with the crosshairs – also known as “fiducials.” There are numerous anomalies that deal with these crosshairs, and this post is meant to address most of them.

All posts in this series:

The Claims

There are two main crosshair claims. The first is a favorite of Bart Sibrel, who talks about it in his docudrama, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon: “A crosshair, which was burned directly into the image by the film plate, and thus should always appear on top of the objects in the photograph, appears behind the object in this scene, clearly revealing a composite of two pictures into one.” (Note that the specific scene in the movie is shown below.)

Bart Sibrel's "Disappearing Crosshair"

The second claim deals with the positioning and orientation of the crosshairs, with this quote taken from Bennet & Percy in Dark Moon, p. 68: “In some photographs the large crosshair is not centered, and in other the grid is not aligned with the image boundaries.”

What Are the Crosshairs?

Before I actually address these claims, I need to give some background information. The fiducials were etched onto a glass plate, each fiducial having a width of 0.1 mm (100 µm). They were etched in so as to be perpendicular/parallel with the edges of the glass plate. The center crosshair was larger than the others.

This plate was then inserted into the cameras between the lens and the film. Therefore, as the hoax folks claim, the crosshairs should all appear “on top of” anything in the photographs, and they should be aligned with the original image boundaries.

Part of the reason for having these was to determine the distances to objects when taking stereo pairs of images.

Why Do They Appear Behind Objects?

In every single example shown, the fiducials seem to “disappear behind” a bright, white object. There are three reasons why this happens: Bleeding of the emulsion, saturation of the dynamic range, and low-quality reproductions.

Taken in order, because the fiducials were so small, a bleeding of the chemicals to make the image of less than the width of a human hair could easily act to remove the fiducial.

This isn’t a very satisfying answer to today’s crowd of folks who have never developed film in a darkroom, so let’s move onto the second reason: Dynamic Range. This is actually the same reason why you don’t see stars in the photographs from the moon. The idea is that film can only record a certain level of darks to lights.

Let’s say that it’s represented by a number between 0 and 99. That is our dynamic range. Now let’s say that in a scene, we are going to take a photograph that lasts 1/100 second (0.01 sec). In this time, the darkest object in the scene reflects 0 or maybe 1 piece of light. In this amount of time, the brightest object in the scene reflects 150 pieces of light. And then there are objects of intermediate brightness.

When the image is recorded on the film, anything that emits or reflects more than 99 pieces of light in that 0.01 seconds will appear white. 99, 121, or 150 will all appear to be the same brightness.

Now, when we look at the photographs and these crosshairs seem to disappear behind a bright object, that’s in part due to the limited dynamic range. That bright object was reflecting more light than the camera could record in that exposure. And when the crosshair was over it, it did not lower the brightness enough to appear any differently.

This goes hand-in-hand with the third reason: Low-quality reproductions. Anyone who’s ever used a photocopier knows that you want to use the original. If you make a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy … then you will lose resolution and color-matching with each copy, eventually coming back with a splotchy, muddy image.

Apollo photographs have been copied so many times that the very slight brightness difference that a crosshair over a bright object vs. the bright object itself would have that it can easily disappear.

A side-reason from this is not just due to the copying, but also due to each person who got the copy (and then copied it and passed it on) manipulating the image. Anyone who looks at the image from Sibrel’s movie above (and re-posted below) who has photography background will notice that the image has been overly-sharpened (you can tell by the very bright white line on top of the hills in the background, among other things). When you sharpen an image, you have to select a pixel size overwhich to sharpen. Anything smaller than that pixel size will lose all detail, and hence the very fine lines from the fiducials can, again, easily disappear.

Bart Sibrel's "Disappearing Crosshair"

Why Are the Crosshairs Rotated, and Not Centered?

To revert to an ad hominem, this is a very silly claim, especially in this day and age where 5-year-olds can manipulate photographs on the computer. Remember, this was a massive public relations (PR) campaign, and NASA had to convince the American public (and the world) that this was worth doing.

So while NASA wouldn’t release all the bad photographs that the astronauts had taken, they also would take the good photographs and would crop and rotate them, which obviously would move the crosshairs around.

For example, I like to use Apollo 11 photograph AS11-40-5868, which shows Buzz Aldrin coming out of the lunar module (LM). The original photo is shown below, with the big crosshair centered, and the others all aligned with the image boundaries. (Note that I have sharpened the image in order to bring out the crosshairs.)

Apollo Photograph AS11-40-5868

Apollo Photograph AS11-40-5868

Now, let’s take another look at the photo. It’s kinda neat, but from a photographer’s point of view – and a PR person’s point of view – not all that great. The horizon is crooked, the astronaut looks like he’s going to fall off the ladder, and there’s this clunky machine that looks like it’s tilted and going to fall on him.

So let’s rotate it, and then crop it:

Apollo Photograph AS11-40-5868 After Rotating and Cropping

Apollo Photograph AS11-40-5868 After Rotating and Cropping

There now — we have a flat, horizontal horizon, the astronaut is majestically descending the ladder, and the clunky machinery of the LM is standing there, ready to take him back to the Command Module, orbiting above.

But – gasp! – the crosshairs are now rotated, and the large one is off-center!! Getting an idea for how silly this claim is, yet?

Final Thoughts

The crosshair/fiducial claims are just as much of an anomaly hunt as most of the other “evidence” for the conspiracy theorists. Each claim may, by itself, seem to make perfect sense, but then once you actually examine the claims, you will quickly find that they just fall apart.

The Apollo Moon Hoax: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Images Apollo Landing Sites


In my post on “The Apollo Moon Hoax: Why Haven’t Any Pictures Been Taken of the Landing Sites?” I mentioned that NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is scheduled to take photographs of the Apollo landing sites. They did.

All posts in this series:

The Photos

These are really fairly unprocessed photographs and they are not at the highest resolution that they will eventually be once LRO actually targets the sites for close-up imaging during its primary mission phase (the narrow-angle camera should be able to resolve sizes of ~0.5 m (1.5 ft)).

However, they are still pretty darn cool, and they fly in the face of people like Bart Sibrel who in this CNN.com article is quoted as saying: “I do know the moon landings were faked,” said crusading filmmaker Bart Sibrel, whose aggressive interview tactics once provoked Aldrin to punch him in the face. “I’d bet my life on it.” Well, Bart, what do you think of these?

Apollo 11 Landing Site

Apollo 15 Landing Site

Apollo 16 Landing Site

Apollo 17 Landing Site

Apollo 14 Landing Site

I think that it’s so cool that you can actually see the astronaut’s footprints (well, the trail of footprints) on the moon. Amazing. (The visible trail is due to the astronauts disturbing the material on the lunar surface, much like we can see the rover trails on Mars from orbit.)

Final Thoughts – The Likely Hoax Response

As I said before, most of the Apollo moon hoax proponents will likely see it as a publicity stunt, that NASA faked ’em, used Photoshop, or whatever. I doubt this will turn a true believer in the conspiracy theory into someone who now believes the official story.

But, for those of us who do know that we actually did land on the moon 40 years ago, these photographs are a welcome reminder of the amazing achievements of the Apollo space program, and they may serve to inspire a new generation of scientists.

June 23, 2009

The Apollo Moon Hoax: An Overview


Yes, it’s been a long time since I’ve done a post … sorry folks, I’ve been busy with work and vacations and other stuff. But enough with excuses! In commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landing by the lunar module “Eagle” piloted by Neil Armstrong and also manned by Buzz Aldrin, I am going to devote the next month of postings to a series that debunks the Apollo Moon Hoax.

In other words, the direct goal of these postings is NOT to prove we went to the moon, landing 12 men on the surface and bringing them successfully back (along with a load of lunar science). Rather, I will pick through the main hoax claims and show why each of them, in turn, is flawed.

The specific purpose of this introductory post is to discuss the hoax in general and why I will be debunking it as I state above.

All posts in this series:

Why the Hoax?

There is a small group of people who have made propagating the idea that the US government hoaxed the moon landings a significant part of their life’s work. In name, the four main people with whom I am familiar are Bill Kaysing (now deceased), David Percy (along with Mary Bennett), Ralph Rene, and Bart Sibrel. The two most active people in the “field” today are Rene and Sibrel, with Sibrel being the most visible.

One may ask, “Why do you think this was a hoax?” I cannot read these peoples’ minds, and I do not want to be accused of libel, so I am stating up-front that I do not attribute any of these reasons directly to any of those people. That said, in general, people like conspiracies and mysteries. It almost may seem anti-climactic to those Generation X and Y folks who were born over a decade after the landings that, “Yeah, we went to the moon.” It’s much more interesting to think that there is something else behind it. In addition, there is almost always an inherent distrust of “the Official story” and especially if that Official story comes from the government – a body that almost no one really trusts anymore.

But besides my attempt to psychoanalyze the conspiracy theorist mindset, there is a more direct, more visual reason: Anomalies. Anomalies are the conspiracy theorist’s bread and butter, the sustenance upon which they build their upside-down pyramid of cards.

Anomaly Hunting Defined

So that we’re all on the same page, I will define “anomaly hunting” for purposes of conspiracy theories: Anomaly hunting is searching for something – anything – that does not make sense to you within the context of the broader picture.

An example from the 9/11 Conspiracy is that when the Towers 1 and 2 collapsed, the debris/rubble only reached a few stories high, despite the skyscrapers originally reaching 110 stories high. How could they possibly have so little debris? There must have been something else going on – right?

Another example, this time from the JFK Assassination Conspiracy, is that the 6.5 x 52 mm Italian Carcano M91/38 bolt-action rifle that was used to shoot the president could NOT have been fired 3 times in the supposed 5.6 seconds that it was fired in (even though the Warren Commission found that it could have been up to 8 seconds). So there must have been a second shooter – right?

Well, to answer both of these … NO. These are apparent anomalies. They seem to make perfect sense when you present them at face-value because they appeal to general common sense. But there are really mundane explanations. First, for the Trade Towers, the explanation is that when one owns a building, they make money off of the empty space inside the building that people can then use for businesses (or living). The Trade Towers were up to 95% empty space by volume, and so when they collapsed, only the structure was what remained.

As for the speed of firing the rifle, it was only the first attempted reenactment by the Warren Commission that failed to duplicate the speed of firing. Since then – including CBS’s 11 volunteers in 1967 – many people have shown that it is a relatively easy task to shoot the rifle 3+ times in the time allotted, even if the minimum of 5.6 seconds is that time. A visual example of this was shown on Penn & Teller’s ‘Bullsh-t’ show, season 3 episode 3, where Penn successfully fired it 3 times in the space of 3.45 seconds.

Why Conspiracies Rely Upon Anomaly Hunting

So one may legitimately ask, “Why are conspiracies built upon anomalies?” The answer is because apparent “common sense” does not always apply. It is a very simple thing for me to look at a picture, hear about someone’s observation, or examine a video and see something that seems to defy what I expect to happen during a circumstance.

This is especially true when one talks about the environment of space, off Earth’s surface. Our every-day experience does not prepare us in any way for what to expect if we are in near-Earth orbit, on the moon, or elsewhere. The lack of air, the different gravity, lack of water, and other environmental factors change how things act and interact, giving rise to apparent anomalies.

Almost every single Moon Hoax claim deals with an apparent anomaly. From a lack of stars, to the C rock, to radiation belts, to the computer technology at the time, hoax proponents have come up with dozens of different anomalies within the Apollo program footage, photographs, statements, mission profile, and pretty much everything else that surrounds the program.

Final Thoughts

The next logical question may be, “Do conspiracy theorists have a coherent story, then, of what actually happened?” The answer may surprise you: No.

In general, the Moon Hoax evidences are almost all anomaly pointing-out from the Apollo program. Beyond that, each conspiracist has their own idea of what “really” happened, though they really do little to promote it when compared with how much work they do to find apparent flaws with the official explanation. And not all of their anomalies actually fit into their view of what happened, with many anomalies pointed out by other “researchers” contradicting their own ideas.

This is why my approach to debunking the Moon Hoax is to go through, claim by claim, and show why they are as they are. Once that is through, the conspiracists have nothing left to stand on because all observations can be explained by the “official” NASA story that we actually went to the moon.

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