Exposing PseudoAstronomy

April 1, 2011

April Fools: A Serious Post for the Day


In the past, I’ve had a bit of obvious fun on April 1 with my posts, such as last year’s where I explained how I had seen the light and was giving up science. And apparently it wasn’t too obvious to all that I was joking, as Michael Horn apparently thought I was serious.

Anyway, this year I thought I would use the day to look over several ideas and concepts that I address on this blog or that, in general, the modern skeptical movement takes issue with. The purpose of this is that, often, people who believe in any of these topics will claim that skeptics can’t have their pet idea be true because it would upset their worldview, destroy everything they “believe” in, etc. On the contrary, I would absolutely love for many of these things to be true. Let’s take a look …

Near-Death Experiences, Spirit Contacts, Ghosts

Any and all of these things, if real (and by “real” for NDEs I mean they actually cannot be explained by biology), would mean that there is some form of existence after we die in this one. Seriously, I would be delighted if this were true. I don’t care what people say about how I can’t have this be true because it would mean there’s accountability, or that I can’t just do anything in this life ’cause I’d be reincarnated as a cockroach, or whatever.

Living for maybe 75 years and then ceasing to exist is a scary thought. Occasionally late at night, it crops up in my mind and I get freaked out. But that doesn’t mean that I believe that there is a form of existence after this one. I see no hard, reproducible evidence for it, and all the purported evidence that people have put forth is generally easily refuted (especially when we’re talking about ghosts and mediums).

But I would love it to be true. I asked a friend of mine once what he believed and he unabashedly said he was an atheist. As did his wife, who had grown up in some form of Christianity in a very conservative town. I asked her why, and if that meant she didn’t believe in life after death, either. She explained the usual reasons, but then it was this that got me: “No, I don’t think there’s life after death. But believe me, if someone were taking a vote and if I had any say in the matter, I would vote ‘yes.'”

I agree: If I have a vote in the matter of whether there will be a life after this one, I would vote “yes, I want there to be one.” But do I actually believe there is one? No.

Present-Day Visitation by UFOs and Aliens

In what you’ll quickly discover is a theme with this post, I think this would be cool, assuming of course some sort of benevolence as opposed to an Independence Day style of alien invasion. More Vulcans, less Borg. But do I think that tiny light in the sky that I happen to not be able to explain at the moment is an alien craft? No. Do I “believe” the Betty & Barney Hill story? No. Do I think Billy Meier’s laughable evidence is proof of visitation? No.

Ancient Aliens and Alien Artifacts in the Solar System

Following from the last section, this would again be pretty cool. Though I find it odd some people think Earth was the brothel of the galaxy eons ago and the idea that deviant aliens came here to make sweet sweet monkey love is wacked out. Again, actual real evidence of alien visitation in the past would be very neat. Evidence of an alien civilization on Mars or some other body in the solar system would likewise, I think, be cause of great interest and people would flock to it.

Does that mean I think the Nazca Lines are ancient alien landing strips? No. Or that aliens built the pyramids? No. Just because we may not have a mundane explanation for something now does not mean that “aliens did it.” Or, following perhaps a frequent refrain of creationists, it does not mean that “aliensdidit” (a la “goddidit”). Similarly, Richard C. Hoagland’s ideas of crystal tunnels and ancient sculptures on Mars, Andrew Baggiago’s ideas of fossils on Mars, and – closer to home – Hoagland’s “Data’s Head” find on the moon are obvious and clear examples of pareidolia and bad image processing, not the desired evidence of ancient advanced civilizations.

Young-Earth Creationism

To be perfectly fair, I really don’t “care” how old Earth is. As far as I’m concerned, I only “know” for sure that it’s just under 28 years old. Or really, it could have been created just a second ago but with the appearance of age and with all of our individual memories forged and everything made with the appearance of age. After all, that’s what you have to believe to be a young-Earth creationist, that every single piece of geologic, historical, astronomical, archaeologic, etc. evidence that points to a planet – much less solar system, galaxy, and universe – older than 6000 years was planted there by some sick, twisted omnipotent being to make us scratch our heads in the fashion of a chimp. Or you have to invent new science that doesn’t fit with anything else in order to make your models work out.

I think that in the coming decades, young-Earthers are going to be looked upon the same as flat-Earthers: People who ignore all evidence to the contrary, invent ways around what they can, and otherwise stick their fingers in their ears and shout, “La La La! I can’t hear you!”

Magic (Powers/Abilities like psychokinesis, Elves, Fairies, etc.)

I’ll be honest here (as elsewhere) and admit to a guilty pleasure: The TV show Charmed was one of my favorites. And I’m a Harry Potter fan, though that’s more socially acceptable for a guy. Anyway, I love the idea of magic existing, either out in the open or the concept of a hidden world “beyond the veil” that exists alongside our everyday lives but is hidden from us normal folks. In fact, for the past 4 years I’ve been working on and off on my own novel exploring that idea. But here you have the problem of not just a lack of even shaky evidence or suggestions that it’s true, but a solid lack of any suggestions that it’s true beyond the stray anecdote from the mentally questionable.

[Pick Your] Conspiracy Theory

Conspiracy theories are interesting because many of them actually could be true when first broached. It’s when people ignore all evidence to the contrary of a conspiracy theory that it begins to get stupid. For example, the Apollo Moon landings. Every claim by conspiracy theorists have been appropriately answered by reasonable explanations that adequately fit the model that the astronauts landed on the moon. And now we have Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images of the Apollo landing sites. This particular conspiracy theory may have made some sense WAY back in the day, but no anyone who clings to it is willfully ignorant or simply delusional. There really is no other, kinder way to say it.

2012 Doomsday

Do I want this one to be true? Of course not. I want to see the solar eclipse in 2017. I have plans set for 2013. I’d prefer not to die in some cataclysm at the end of next year. Does my desire for this not to happen cloud my judgement on whether it will? No. Again, much like with the conspiracy theories above, every idea put forward by 2012 doomsdayers has been shown to be simply wrong, not physically possible, or just an outright lie. If there were actual evidence or even a physical mechanism that could occur, then I would reevaluate my conclusion and start eating more ice cream and Doritos.

Vaccines Cause Autism

Actually, I think it would be great if there were any kind of simple cause of autism, be it the thimerosal that was used as a preservative in childhood vaccines, parents playing Beethoven to the pregnant mom’s stomach, or solar flares. Unfortunately, there isn’t. Thimerosal was removed from most vaccines in the US a decade ago, and autism rates didn’t go down at all. No one knows what actually causes autism, but it’s definitely not vaccines. Concerned parents should be concerned, but they shouldn’t blame something that protects a child’s health and has conclusively been shown by every study to not cause autism.

Final Thoughts

That about wraps it up. Now, yes, this was posted on April 1st. No, this is not a “fake” nor joke post. In the end, this really boils down to this message for a “true believer” who harps on the “skeptics:” Get over yourselves. We are not “scared” that your-supernatural-belief-of-choice may be true. We would welcome it. Instead of wasting everyone’s time with that straw man, how about actually addressing the legitimate criticisms of the methodology instead of the claims?

What I’ve written above are my honest thoughts on the issues. What are yours?


July 18, 2009

The Apollo Moon Hoax: Two Interviews (of Me)

A quick intermediate post in my series: I have been interviewed by “The Conspiracy Skeptic” podcast as well as on the “Rational Alchemy” radio show / podcast regarding the Apollo moon hoax conspiracy theory.

You can visit The Conspiracy Skeptic or click here to listen to the audio directly. Please note that you can subscribe to this podcast through iTunes.

Rational Alchemy is found here or go here for the podcast list. Click here for the audio of my interview.

All posts in this series:

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.

July 16, 2009

The Apollo Moon Hoax: All the Photos Are Way Too Good!


As part of my continuing series on the Apollo Moon Hoax, I am going to address a fairly common claim of all the Apollo photos being too good to be true. I’ll be writing a related post soon about the related claim dealing with how the astronauts actually took the photos (exposure settings, focusing, aiming, etc.).

All posts in this series:

The Claim

This is a pretty common Apollo moon hoax claim, and it was featured towards the beginning of the 2001 FOX docudrama. The basic premise shown during that TV special where they quote Bill Kaysings: “The pictures that we see that were allegedly taken on the moon are absolutely perfect.”

Another version, this time from Ralph Rene: “All the photographs brought back from the moon are correctly exposed, correctly framed, and crisply in focus. This seems suspicious.”

Is This True?

In a word: No.

What’s humorous about this claim in this this day and age is that it is demonstrably false given a computer, the internet, and less than 5 minutes. You can go to any number of websites that archive all the Apollo photographs and see quite plainly, for yourself, that many of the pictures, in a word, SUCK.

The Project Apollo Image Gallery is one of my favorite. I clicked randomly on the Apollo 12 mission. I clicked on three photos, in a row, selecting the position at random. One was good (AS12-46-6821), one was framed poorly with the horizon going down at around a 20° angle while photographing the astronaut’s butt (AS12-46-6820), and the third showed a lens flare of ghosting around the astronaut (AS12-46-6818).

And then there’s the one I’m showing below, AS12-47-7010. The label on the picture is, “Reflection of astronaut.” Quite, um, interesting, but hardly a “perfect,” “correctly exposed,” “correctly framed,” nor even “crisply in focus” photograph.

Bad Apollo Photograph - AS12-47-7010

Bad Apollo Photograph - AS12-47-7010

Why the Claim?

So that bears the question as to why this claim even exists if it’s so demonstrably wrong? The answer is that it’s really cheap to duplicate images these days (17¢ at Costco!!) or to place them online in a digital archive. But back in the 1960s and ’70s, that was not the case. It was expensive to print up images, and it took quite a bit of time.

Since this entire Apollo program was a massive public relations campaign – not only to the American public but to the rest of the world – NASA only released the best of the photographs. After all, of the literally thousands of photographs from the Apollo missions, it simply does not make sense for a press office to release all of them, rather they would want to control the release and only put out the best ones.

And not only that, but ones that may have been cropped and rotated to make them the best … but that’s an issue to address on a separate hoax proponent claim.

Final Thoughts

This claim is, in my opinion, one of the silliest that’s out there. It may seem like a good one, but literally any amount of effort to look into it will show that it’s simply wrong. This is a case of anomaly hunting where there isn’t even any anomaly.

The Apollo Moon Hoax: Footprints Need Water to Form, Right? And How Hoaxers Argue


As part of my continuing series on the Apollo Moon hoax idea, I’m going to address a fairly minor claim that’s made about the astronaut footprints, and whether or not you actually need moist material in order to hold a foot impression.

All posts in this series:

The Claim

The basic claim goes as follows: The soil on the moon looks like its wet or made of plaster or something like that. After all, look at how sharp those footprints and impressions are!

Another version is: “Footprints are the result of weight displacing air or moisture from between particles of dirt, dust, or sand. The astronauts left distinct footprints all over the place.” (Dave Cosnette)

Still another version, this time from Bart Sibrel during a “debate” on the March 20, 2009 episode of Coast to Coast AM (around 10 min 30 sec): “If there’s no moisture on the moon, then how come you can see footprints perfectly? Because when you step in the desert where there’s no moisture in the sand, all you see is a circle. But in the photographs of the footprint on the moon, you see an absolute impression of the, uh, footprint indicating that there is moisture in the soil which means they’re not on the moon.”

What Makes a Footprint or Impression Hold its Shape?

After hearing this claim, the basic question that it raises is how does a material hold its shape? The answer is that there are two main ways.

The first way is that there is a glue-like substance between the individual particles of the material. The obvious choice on Earth is going to be water — water acts like a glue and will help a material hold its shape. An example of this is to take a cup of sand and try to make a pile of it. Measure the angle of the slope of the pile. Now add some water, and make the pile as steep as you can again. The slope will be larger because the water acts like a glue to hold the grains of sand together.

Obviously, this is what moon hoax proponents will have you believe is the only way that a material can hold its shape.

But, there is a second method. That’s when the particles that make up the material themselves are able to interlock, a little like puzzle pieces, and so can maintain their bulk shape. A good example on Earth of this would be a pile of flour able to hold almost any impression you make in it.

Digression – Disingenuine Nature of Bart Sibrel’s Arguments

I am bringing this up because it is an example of the way that hoax proponents argue — namely, in this case, Bart Sibrel. It is an example of how he fails to form a consistent picture, and even contradicts himself in his claims in just over one minute.

Directly following the quote I gave above, a caller into the show replied by effectively stating what I did above, and gave the example of flour:

Caller: If you take flour —

Sibrel: Flour has moisture in it.

Caller: — a very very fine powdered substance, then you step on it with no moisture in it at all, then it’s going to make a footprint.

Sibrel: Flour has moisture in it, you can feel it when you put your hand —

Caller: Of course flour has moisture in it on Earth. But you know you can take other substances that don’t have moisture in them and you can still make a footprint. I mean this —

Sibrel: Like what? Give me an example.

Caller: You can take fine rock dust —

Sibrel: Yeah, but you’re doing that on Earth where there’s moisture everywhere, the moon has never had moisture …

He goes on, but the point is made. Sibrel started out by using an example of sand not holding a footprint (note — sand on Earth). Just over a minute later, he contradicts himself by saying that there’s actually moisture everywhere on Earth … so my question is, then, why doesn’t sand in the desert hold its shape, Bart?

Another quality that this exchange brings to light – and is much more obvious when you actually listen to the audio – is that hoax proponents will advance their claim, and if actually in a live debate, they will interrupt the respondent constantly, and they will place the onus on the responder rather than themselves to come up with more and more examples or reasons why their claim is wrong.

You’ll notice in the above that the caller gave a perfectly fine example of flour, but Sibrel completely dismisses it by asking for “an” example – ignoring that he had just been given an example. Then, when the caller gives a second example, Sibrel goes back, sidesteps the example, and effectively states that any example is no good because it’s on Earth where there’s water. This is a classic example of the “shifting the goal post” logical fallacy.

What’s the Lunar Regolith Like?

First – a note on terminology is that astronomers call the surface of the moon to be made of “regolith,” rather than “soil,” since soil implies an organic (life) origin.

Anyway, the surface material of the moon has been created over the last ~4.5 billion years by meteorite and micrometeorite bombardment. It’s been pulverized. But, it has not been smoothed out due to normal processes of erosion on Earth, such as by wind or water.

Consequently, the lunar regolith is made of, effectively, shards of rock. And microscopic shards of rock are going to be able to interlock just as in the second method I described above. You don’t need moisture to make impressions when you have particles that can interlock.

Why Does the Lunar Surface “Look Wet?”

Apollo "Wet" Surface
A part of this claim that I’ve neglected so far is why the surface actually does look wet in some photographs. The reason is simply that it looks darker. We are evolutionarily trained that when we look at two surfaces and one is darker than the other, we will likely think it looks wet. For example, go to the beach. Wet sand is darker than dry sand — it’s that simple.

The reason that some places on the lunar surface “look wet” is because the material was (a) rougher at a centimeter-size scale (such as where the astronauts were digging or walking around), and since all the Apollo missions took place during morning on the moon when the shadows were very long, a centimeter-scale roughness will cast shadows over the area making the material look dark. An example of this is shown in the photograph on the right.

Final Thoughts

This is yet another example of anomaly hunting in the basis of the claim, and one where the hoax proponents rely yet again on the majority of your experience on Earth (when material looks wet, and why material holds together) in order to propagate their claim.

But, yet again, when you actually examine all the factors involved, the hoax claim evaporates much like water would on the lunar surface.

July 15, 2009

The Apollo Moon Hoax: Why Is There No Lunar Dust on the Lander’s Footpads?

The Apollo Moon Hoax: Why Is There No Lunar Dust on the Lander’s Footpads?


For my continuing series in the Apollo Moon Hoax, I am going to address a claim that follows along the lines of the NASA stagehands not doing their job right — not placing any dust on the lunar module’s footpads.

All posts in this series:

The Claim

The basic claim goes as follows: When looking at the pretty pictures of the golden footpad of the Apollo lunar module (LM — see photo below), there doesn’t appear to be a single grain of dust on it, as though the module was just “placed there.”

Lunar Module Footpad - AS11-40-5926

Lunar Module Footpad - AS11-40-5926

Obviously, the NASA people who didn’t put the dust there were trying to tell future generations that this was a faked event, leaking this information out so no NASA higher-ups would realize.

The Lunar Atmosphere vs. Earth’s Atmosphere

There isn’t any. Simply put, the mass of the entire atmosphere of the moon is less than the amount of gas expelled by each Apollo descent engine.

As a result, if you were to pick up a handful of lunar dust and drop it, it would fall straight down with an acceleration about 1/6th that in Earth’s gravity. It would land directly below where you released it.

But it would appear to fall faster than that when compared with actually dropping flour-like substances on Earth. This is due to Earth’s atmosphere, which adds a resistive force to the dust settling down. In addition to this resistive force preventing its downward motion, Earth’s atmosphere is not still – it moves around. This allows any light material to billow out, creating clouds of material, and rarely landing directly below the location you released it.

The Lunar Module’s Descent Engine Shut-Off

The Apollo LMs had an antenna that when it came into contact with the lunar surface would trigger a light inside the craft. This light would be a signal to the astronauts to shut off the engine. Hence, the engine would be shut off before the craft landed.

Putting the Pieces Together to Debunk the Claim

At this point, we have two facts. First, lunar dust will drop straight down if it is released – be it from an astronaut that picks it up or from the force of a rocket engine’s exhaust (which, while not strong enough to create a crater was strong enough to suspend lunar dust). Second, the Apollo engines were shut off before the craft landed.

Consequently, as soon as the engines shut off, the source of a temporary atmosphere that surrounded the craft was terminated, and the dust that was suspended in it immediately dropped towards the lunar surface. The craft still had both a horizontal component to its trajectory, and the legs were above the majority of any of the temporary atmosphere that suspended the dust.

Hence, when the craft landed, it landed both to the side of the settled dust, and the dust would have already settled before the craft touched down, preventing any from being deposited on the LM’s footpads.

Final Thoughts

This claim is yet another one that hinges upon a perceived anomaly. And yet, this anomaly is common sense here on Earth but our common sense does not serve us well when trying to understand the lunar environment. When you hear a hoax claim, try to think about what would really happen in the environment of the moon, and you will be on your way to debunking the claim yourself.

July 14, 2009

The Apollo Moon Hoax: Why Is There No Blast Crater Under the Lunar Module?


For my continuing series in the Apollo Moon Hoax, I am going to address a claim that anyone who has taken physics could explain: Why there is no “blast crater” underneath the lunar module’s rocket engine on the moon’s surface.

All posts in this series:

The Claim

The basic claim goes as follows: Before the Apollo landings, real NASA scientists and real artists (as opposed to fake ones) thought that the engine firing may create a blast crater underneath the lunar module. Pictures of the real site, however, showed no such crater, not even a big depression in the surface, as though the module was just “placed there.”

Obviously, the NASA people who didn’t create the crater on the soundstage/set/Area51/whatever were trying to tell future generations that this was a faked event, leaking this information out so no NASA higher-ups would realize.

Let’s Talk About Pressure

In physics, I think almost everyone knows that much discussion is given to studying “forces.” What is a force? A force has units of mass * length / time2. In other words, a force can be thought of as “what it takes” to accelerate a certain mass over a certain distance in a given amount of time. Gravity is a force. A human stepping exerts a force. A rocket engine exerts a force.

Moving one step further in complexity, we get pressure. Pressure is force / area (mass / (length * time2) ). So while a human stepping exerts a force, when you divide that force into the area of a human footstep, you get a pressure exerted.

The concept of force is actually shown in a neat magic trick that my parents would never let me do as a child: Take a coin, such as a dime. Take a nail and a hammer. Try to hammer the nail into the dime. You probably won’t be able to. Now take a pin and try to hammer the pin into the dime. It will likely go in. Why? Because while you are exerting the same force through the hammer, it is concentrated over a much smaller area with the pin, and hence you are exerting a greater pressure.

Another way to think about that is to take your finger and push on your forehead. All you may get is a white mark for a bit before the blood returns. Now, think (don’t do!!) about what would happen if you took a pin and tried the same thing. You would puncture the skin because while you exert the same force, you are exerting a much greater pressure through the pin.

How Is Pressure Relevant? — The Crux of Debunking This Claim

First, some numbers: The lunar module (LM) descent stage engine had a maximum thrust of 9870 ft-lb, but this was throttleable back to a minimum of 1050 ft-lb. Sounds like a lot. But, the diameter of the nozzle was 63 inches, which is an area of about 3120 in2. Dividing this into the force (thrust) and you have a pressure range of 0.4-3.2 ft-lb/in2, otherwise known as psi. This is equivalent to the metric 2760-22,100 N/m2. But let’s stick with psi.

Anyone who owns a car probably knows that this is already significantly less than your tire pressure … by a factor of 10-100. When Apollo 11 landed, the thrust was down to about 1/3 of max, so down to around 1 psi.

Now let’s look at the average adult footstep: The average non-American weighs around 150 lbs. The average human footprint is around 50 in2 (don’t believe me? do the math yourself!). Divide the first into the second and you have the average human footstep exerting a simple 3 psi.

This is 3x larger than Apollo’s engines!!

The very fact that the astronauts walking on the moon did not create “blast craters” underneath them should be explanation enough as to why the engine did not create a blast crater under it — the pressure was simply too low.

Then Why Did They Think It Would Before?

Good question. The best explanation that I could find is that when the hoax believers say, “NASA scientists,” it implies all NASA scientists. But it could just as well mean 2 NASA scientists as 2000. Hence, I would hypothesize that this was a possibility that was raised by a few people, but the majority in the review board said it would not happen and so the missions went ahead.

As for the artist renderings, well, many of the pictures painted at the time also show a big yellow-red flame coming out of the rocket engine as the LM touches down. But – as was known by all NASA engineers who knew about the fuel system – the fuel used would create no visible exhaust “flame” while in the lunar environment. Hence, an artist rendering should be taken as just that – an artist rendering and not as a scientific gospel.

Final Thoughts

Well, this is actually one of my shorter posts, but I’m trying to be less verbose these days as some feedback I’ve gotten is that I type too much. Regardless of that, though, I think that I’ve covered this claim reasonably well. All because some people thought one thing prior to Apollo landing does not mean that Apollo finding something else is evidence of a hoax. That’s what scientific exploration is.

June 25, 2009

The Apollo Moon Hoax: Why Haven’t Any Pictures Been Taken of the Landing Sites?

The Claim

Before I start to really explore the main claims of the Apollo Moon Hoax proponents, I thought I would give an overview of one of their only lines of “evidence” that isn’t anomaly hunting: When claim after claim is refuted, many of the Hoax proponents will ask the apparent stumper – “If the landings really happened, then why hasn’t NASA or anyone else taken pictures of the landing sites? Hubble can see to the edge of the visible Universe, but it hasn’t even been used to photograph Apollo?”

Update on 7/17/2009: NASA has released the first photographs from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter showing most of the Apollo landing sites: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Images Apollo Landing Sites.

All posts in this series:

Basic Optics

The reason that, as of the time of this writing, the sites have not been imaged is that there simply has not been a telescope that can image them from that telescope’s location.

Very basic optical theory says that the best angular resolution – the smallest angle that a telescope can resolve – is θ = sin-1(1.220*λ/D). In this equation, θ is the angle in radians, λ is the wavelength of light, and D is the diameter of the telescope’s primary light-gathering optic (either the front lens or the primary mirror).

(I didn’t make this equation up, it can be found in any optics or even basic physics text, but I am not going to derive it here.)

How Big Are the Apollo Relics?

In physics, we like round numbers. We have some rovers up there, some instrumentation, a few flags (that would now be destroyed because of the sun’s UV radiation), and some lunar module feet. Let’s actually round up and say that the largest object we left has about a 5 meter-diameter footprint.

The moon is 384,400,000 meters away, on average. This sets up a right triangle with one leg the distance to the moon, and the other leg being half the size of our Apollo relic. The angle that relic makes is then θ = tan-1((relic)/(distance)) = 3.726*10-7°. That’s really small.

Let’s convert this to something astronomers use a little more often, arcseconds. 1° = 60 arcminutes = 3600 arcseconds. So, our relic now subtends (extends over) 1.34*10-3 (0.00134) arcseconds from Earth. That’s really small.

For reference, the full moon subtends ~30 arcminutes, while Venus at its smallest is a little under 10 arcseconds.

What Can Telescopes Resolve?

Now let’s use Hubble and see what the smallest thing is that it can see. Hubble has a 2.4-meter primary mirror, and it looks in the UV, visible, and near-IR light. Let’s pick a green wavelength, a nice, round 500 nm (5000 Å). Hubble is basically at Earth, so we don’t need to re-calculate the angle the Apollo relic would cover.

At 500 nm, Hubble has a resolving power of 0.05 arcseconds, and the pixels on Hubble’s detector are actually 0.1 arcsecond across. This corresponds to a spot size about 370 meters across.

The largest optical telescope on Earth – the Keck 10-m telescope, can theoretically resolve an object at the 0.013 arcsecond level, but this still is 1 order of magnitude too large (10x) to resolve any Apollo relic on the moon.

Future Plans

As of the time of writing this, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has just entered orbit of the moon. Its final orbit will place it very close to the surface, only about 50 km away during the nominal mission. The LROC (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera) has both a wide and narrow camera to it, and it will have a resolution of better than 1 meter. And, it WILL be photographing the Apollo landing sites, hopefully laying to rest these claims.

Pragmatically, however, I expect that true hoax believers will simply say that NASA has “Photoshopped” the images. As one poster on the “Above Top Secret” conspiracy site stated, “Haha, yeah… with photoshopped objects being inserted into the pictures. I couldn’t trust any NASA image to be a true representation of what is or isn’t there.”

And this is another example of a “true believer” mentality: Even after a claim is made out, it is answered, and then even further work is done to actually gather the evidence, it is dismissed out of hand as a simply more deceit.

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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