Exposing PseudoAstronomy

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:

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July 17, 2009

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


Introduction

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


Introduction

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!


Introduction

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.

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