Exposing PseudoAstronomy

January 25, 2014

Episode 99: The Saga of the Lunar Ziggurat

Lunar ziggurat
Keeps on giving and giving …
Is there end in sight?

Sorry this one took so very, very long to get out. Jet lag is not fun. I gave two talks while I was in Australia, and both were versions of this, “The Saga of the Lunar Ziggurat.” The audio this time is from a recording at the Launceston Skeptics in the Pub event and a group about two weeks later in Melbourne. It was “live” and hence of variable quality, including street noise. But, the quality isn’t bad.

August 29, 2012

Final Words on the Lunar Ziggurat? Pareidolia, Language, and Conspiracy


I’ve now written nearly a dozen posts and 19.5k words (notice I don’t claim 20,000, even though Mike did when he wrote 17,650) on this lunar ziggurat “issue:”

The purpose of this post is to wrap up a few loose ends and return to the beginning, where this started. So there are four sections to this post, then a summary of where we are and why I don’t think there’s much more to be said (though I may revise that thought) on this.


To quote from Mike’s part 5 of 5 posts on this:

“The actual truth is that there is no such thing as “Pareidolia.” It’s just a phony academic sounding word the debunkers made up to fool people into thinking there is scholarly weight behind the concept. It’s actually a complete sham. … The word was actually first coined by a douchebag debunker (is that my first “douchebag” in this piece?! I must be getting soft) named Steven Goldstein in a 1994 issue of Skeptical Inquirer. Since then, every major debunker from Oberg to “Dr. Phil” has fallen back on it, but it is still a load of B.S. There is no such thing.”

First, let’s get this out of the way: I never claimed that the ziggurat image is pareidolia. It’s clearly not. The question for the ziggurat is whether someone superposed a terrestrial ziggurat on a lunar photograph.

As far as I can tell, Mike’s etymology of the word is correct — he may have used the same resource I did, and I can’t find any previous references. (Updated per comments: Actually, the term goes back at least to the mid-1800s. From an 1867 journal: “… or, there is necessary an external and individual object very nearly corresponding in character to the false perception, whose objective stimulus blends with the deficient subjective stimulus, and forms a single complete impression. This last is called by Dr. Kahlbaum, changing hallucination, partial hallucination, perception of secondary images, or pareidolia. Those manifestations which have been hitherto termed illusions, are only in very small proportion actual delusions of the senses (partial hallucinations). For the most part they are pure delusions of the judgement, while a few are false judgments, founded on imperfect perception, or deceptions produced in the peripheral organs of sense and in external conditions.”)

Regardless, claiming that there is no such thing is about at the level of Mike’s claiming that centrifugal force makes you heavier, an annular eclipse is when the moon is closer than normal to Earth, you measure the major and minor axes of an ellipse from two arbitrary points within it, and dark matter denial (stay tuned for a podcast on that last one at some point).

Whether it has a word or not, it is a real phenomenon. The Rorschach ink blot test was created to make use of pareidolia. People make pilgrimages to distant places because they think Jesus or Mary is visible within the knot of a tree or an oil spot on a building window. And that’s just visual pareidolia.

The whole “EVP” (electronic voice phenomenon) is an example of audio pareidolia where you think you hear something in random noise. Skeptoid had a good episode on this, #105.

I’m really not sure why Mike decided to introduce such a blatant falsehood about human perception when it’s not even relevant to the ziggurat stuff.


Another loose end is language. I’ve commented on this before, but it bears some repeating. Mike’s language throughout this was originally pure insults, and when he realized I have a Ph.D., it turned into mocking conspiracy (see next section for more on that). Mine has been remarkably restrained (in my never humble opinion). I’ve refrained from direct insults except in my initial analysis, in which I said my opinion was that Richard was either lying that he had spent weeks studying the image, or that he was incompetent in that image analysis. As far as I can tell, those are the only direct insults, and they’re relatively minor at that.

Contrast that with, say, Mike’s entire Part 1 blog post on this stuff.

The only real progress we’ve made over the last month is that he’s stopped calling me a hater.

Mike also stated that I feel the need to brand him a “heretic,” which is a term I have never used nor implied. I found that particularly humorous because just this past week, Skeptoid addressed that very issue — the need of pseudoscientists to claim that they are being branded as heretics. To quote from Brian Dunning’s transcript:

“It’s noteworthy that the term “heretic” is only ever used by dogmatic authorities. For example, the Catholic church used it during the Inquisition. I’ve never heard a working scientist call anyone a heretic in reference to their scientific work; instead, they simply point out that they’re wrong and why. But promoters of pseudoscience want to be called heretics, because that would make the scientific mainstream into a dogmatic authority. Whenever you run into a lone researcher who’s outside the mainstream and claims to have been labeled a heretic, you have very good reason to be skeptical.” (emphasis his)

That’s really all I have to say on this aspect, but I thought it important, yet again, to point out.

Another thing about language, though. Mike has claimed to “destroy” my arguments and to provide absolute proof that the ziggurat is real. I, on the other hand, have never used such black-and-white terminology. My position has always been that it is my opinion, based on the available evidence, and based on my analysis that I’ve now gone through at great length, that the ziggurat is more likely to be fake than real.

You might think I’m pointing out semantics, but they’re important semantics. Scientists will rarely speak in terms of absolutes except in rare cases (for example, I’ve made declarative statements of facts about noise in images). When stating their position, it is almost always couched in “the evidence shows [this]” or “based on a preponderance of the evidence.” That’s because science is always open to revision, always open to being shown that previous conclusions were wrong based on new evidence brought to light.

And then there are the declarative statements of the pseudoscientists. There’s also, oftentimes, a failure to admit when they’ve made mistakes, even obvious, trivial ones that don’t really matter for their main arguments. I’ve pointed out many that Mike has made that don’t really impact his argument (and I’ve pointed out many he’s made that do impact his argument), but he’s never back-tracked on any of them.

Nor, as an aside, has he backtracked from any of the mistakes he made in his book, “The Choice.” For example, on August 12, someone wrote on his Facebook page: “Mike likes to say in his defence “I never said that, you are trying to get me to defend things I never said.” Well Mike, you DID say on page 32 of “The Choice” that centrifugal force makes us heavier. So you DID actually say that, and it’s simply completely wrong.”

Mike followed that up immediately with, “Show me the quote asshole. It doesn’t say that. And it was a misprint anyway.” Interesting how something isn’t there but that it was a misprint at the same time that it’s not there being wrong. And just last night, he’s now claiming that his book had two minor misprints, 10 words out of 50,000. Anyway, we’re getting somewhat off-topic, so if you’re at all interested in the many more than two basic, fundamental mistakes in “The Choice,” I’ll direct you to this post.

Fear and Conspiracy

Mike has claimed that it is fear (and money) that has driven me to write about this subject. Fear that my worldview will be turned upside-down, that I’m afraid of aliens or what alien artifacts would imply, that the Brookings Report is my Bible (you know, THE report, as opposed to all the other reports that think-tank has released over the decades), etc.

I know that regardless of what I say he won’t be convinced otherwise, but I’ll say it again anyway: It’s not true. As I have written innumerable times on this blog, the whole reason for doing science is to make new discoveries and overturn paradigms (and this is a real plug post for Skeptoid ’cause Dunning addressed this in the latest episode 324, too).

Let’s do a little test: Raise your hand if you recognize the name Albert Einstein. Now raise your other hand if you recognize the name Francis Everitt. For those who don’t have both hands raised, Everitt is the principle investigator of the Gravity Probe B mission that was a test of some of Einstein’s theories. He’s not a household name because he has upheld a paradigm; Einstein is a household name because he created it. ‘Nough said.

Which brings us to the conspiracy and likely why this will be my last post on this subject. After all this discussion, we’re really, in sum and substance, back at the beginning because almost all evidence that I have brought forth is simply dismissed as either apparently wrong (which I’ve explained is incorrect or likely incorrect) or it’s apparently not trustworthy because it’s all a conspiracy.

Mike claims that I lack honesty, and then he corrected himself on the radio and used the term “intellectual honesty.” Meanwhile, Mike has stated at least twice that he baited me with blog posts to do his work for him in finding other images of the location. And then he both dismissed them as part of the conspiracy while also saying that I had the location wrong, which I showed again was not the case. Lying about one’s reason for something and then dismissing it anyway when it shows what you don’t like … and then accusing me of intellectual dishonesty? Seriously?

I had taken more notes of stuff to say at this point, but after writing the above, I really don’t think any more needs to be said. It won’t convince anyone who believes what Mike says, and the people who don’t believe Mike are already convinced and know roughly what else I was going to say, anyway.

Real Quick – The Ziggy Location, Again

I think this bears repeating. Mike claims that I missed the location of the ziggurat.

Here’s my evidence that it’s where I claim it is, courtesy of “GoneToPlaid:”

AS11-38-5564 and M149377797 Ziggurat Location, D

AS11-38-5564 and M149377797 Ziggurat Location, D

Here’s Mike’s:

Location of Ziggurat According to Mike Bara

Location of Ziggurat According to Mike Bara

And here’s Mike’s with the actual, correct craters matched up:

Location of Ziggurat According to Mike Bara

Location of Ziggurat According to Mike Bara

As you can see, it’s fairly clear that Mike got his craters wrong, misjudging the scale and relative positions. He might be better off in the future paying attention to what the planetary geophysicist who actually studies craters says.

Where We Are Now

The question I asked a few posts ago was: What would it take to falsify your belief? Mike has not directly answered that. He’s also pointed out that he doesn’t give (a few swear words) what I think nor about my challenges. Which is then interesting that he spent so much time on responding.

I laid out three primary categories of reasons that I think it’s fake. Mike’s responses to each can be summarized by the indented, bulleted text below each.

1. Why there is less noise in the NASA original but more noise in Mike’s, and why is there more contrast (more pure black and more saturated highlights) in Mike’s? Both of these pretty much always indicate that the one with more noise and more contrast is a later generation … you can’t just Photoshop in more detail like that.

  • Mike spent a lot of time changing his definition of noise and going through a few misconceptions about it, but in the end, he claims that the noise in his version is texture from a poorly stored photo in an album that was later scanned, hence it’s an earlier generation because it’s from an old print. There is no evidence for this other than what he has interpreted as texture, and I argue that the more likely explanation is that it’s a late-generation copy.
  • Mike claims that there is more contrast in the NASA version because the black shadows are pure black (greyscale 0) while the shadows in his version are between ~18 and 31, so show a range. I argue that the range is due to noise, that the dynamic range of his version is roughly half the NASA version, and that the dynamic range within the bright areas is less in his version, thus supporting my statement that there’s more contrast in his version.
  • Mike misinterpreted my statement about Photoshopping in detail thinking I meant details like craters. The point still stands that once you have a saturated pixel, you cannot bring the information back without assumptions and then modeling what you think it should be.

2. Why other images of the same place taken by several different craft (including non-NASA ones), including images at almost 100x the original resolution of the Apollo photo, don’t show the feature.

  • One claim Mike made is that I missed the location of the ziggurat. I have shown that I did not.
  • He also claims that he does not believe any of the current NASA images nor those from the SELENE (Japanese) mission, nor much of anything else except the old Apollo images, and even then, only some of them such as the one that shows what – at first glance to most normal people – appears on its face to be fake. He clearly stated that if the Chinese images don’t show anything there, it’s because they’ve been pressured to not release them or they’re part of the conspiracy or some such thing.
  • He’s brought in other Apollo photographs of the region taken from orbit and when none showed a convincing feature, he stated that they were airbrushed out. Except for one of them, which to me, looks even less like a pareidolia-ized ziggurat than the first (though Mike doesn’t believe in pareidolia … see above).

3. Why the shadowed parts of his ziggurat are lit up when they’re in shadow, on top of a hill, and not facing anything that should reflect light at them?

  • Much of Mike’s response was that scattered light will brightly light any shadowed region, and he has seen hundreds of examples of this.
  • This is something I have stated – that scattered light can illuminate some things, faintly, but not to the effect it allegedly had on the ziggurat:
  • What he showed were mainly examples of scattered and refracted light within the optics of the camera itself rather than on the surface. One of his examples did have some stuff in shadow that was very, very faintly lit by scattered light.
  • To have the ziggurat shadowed part lit by scattered light would require an incredibly reflective surface that somehow withstood [insert time length] years of asteroid impacts to still reflect all the light that’s scattered onto it from a very small crater wall. I suppose this in itself is not impossible, but it strains credulity, especially when taken with all the other very unlikely things needed to be true for this to be real.

I could go through a timeline of stuff, too, but I don’t think that’s really worth getting into. The string of posts at the beginning shows it pretty well, I think.

So that’s where we are. Neither of us are going to convince the other, of course. I’ve stated for awhile now that this would end in one of probably three ways, in order of increasing likelihood:

  1. Mike would admit it’s likely a fake. (near-0% chance)
  2. Mike would just start to ignore it and move on with his other stuff.
  3. Mike would say that any evidence or explanation I bring forward is wrong or that he can dismiss it because it’s part of the conspiracy. After all, he already claims I’m bought and paid for so nothing I say can be trusted (Mike – how much do you make from promoting your ideas?). (near-100% chance)

Final Thoughts?

Clearly, Option #3 was always the most likely and it is primarily what he’s gone with. Which really gets me back to ¿why are we going through this whole thing, anyway?

I cannot read minds, though I often wish I could, but my guess is that Mike feels the need to defend this considering that he’s put so much effort into it and made it a centerpiece of his book due out in October. It also fits entirely within and reinforces the worldview that he sells (literally). He’s also said he really doesn’t care WHAT my analysis shows nor opinions are, so in that sense, I’m not sure why he’s decided to continue writing so much on it even after Richard Hoagland suggested he not.

I’ve continued on with this in part because I’m stubborn, but also because I’ve been learning and teaching as I’ve been going. In terms of the former, I’ve learned how to obtain and process the SELENE images, how to be more precise, how to create videos, and techniques to bolster my claims. That will help me not just in this kind of education and public outreach work, but also in my career. For example, I’m headed to a conference in Flagstaff, AZ (USA) next month on cratering and I’ll be giving two presentations. My work is going to be challenged. If I can’t defend it, then it falls and I’m back to square one.

In terms of the latter, I’ve tried to gear each blog post on this not just towards the boring “debunking” stuff, but to illustrate to everyone who’s reading how to do their own investigations into this stuff and NOT to take my word for things, and also about how certain things are done and stuff works. For example, I’ve gone into great depth now in a few posts AND two podcasts on image processing and about images in general, such as dynamic range, noise, geometric correction, and how some basic filters work. In an age where nearly everyone who has internet (and so is reading this) has a digital camera, this is useful information to have, and I’ll likely refer back to it in future posts on many disparate topics.

But, by this point, I think the impasse is more obvious than ever. I acknowledge that some of Mike’s ideas are possible (i.e., the poorly stored print idea), but in my opinion they are unlikely – and many unlikely things would ALL need to be true for this – when compared with the null hypothesis: The ziggurat is a hoax by someone. Mike has not admitted to being wrong even when he’s contradicted himself, and pretty much every argument I’ve made that he hasn’t attempted to show is wrong has been relegated to a conspiracy. Nothing I say is going to change his mind on that, though that was pretty much known from the beginning.

I think it is probably time for a graceful exit on this issue by both parties. Mike’s explained his position, I’ve explained mine, and you, the reader, are encouraged to do your own investigation and make up your own mind. If you decide the conspiracy is accurate, and you like the way Mike argues by primarily flinging insults, them more power to you because you’ve made The Choice, go buy Mike’s books, spend money to hear him talk, and have fun.


Oh, and P.S., this should not be construed as a concession post by any stretch of the imagination.

August 28, 2012

Dynamic Range and Shadows


Part three of four posts in response to Michael Bara’s five-part post that allegedly destroys my arguments that the ziggurat on the moon is not real. Next post is already written (mostly) and will come out shortly, wrapping things up.

Dynamic Range

I really think I’ve covered this enough by this point, but I’ll do it briefly again.

Below is the “original” ziggurat image that Mike has linked to. Below that is a histogram of its pixel values. Note that this looks slightly different from what Photoshop will show the histogram to be. That’s because Photoshop fakes it a teensy bit. This histogram was created using very rigorous data analysis software (Igor Pro) and shows a few spikes and a few gaps in the greyscale coverage:

Original Lunar Ziggurat Image from Call of Duty Zombies Forum

Original Lunar Ziggurat Image from Call of Duty Zombies Forum

Histogram of Pixel Values in Original Ziggurat Image

Histogram of Pixel Values in Original Ziggurat Image

The dynamic range available for this image is 8-bit, or 0 through 2^8-1, or 256 shades of grey (or 254 plus black plus white — semantics). The actual dynamic range the image covers is less than this — its range is only 12 through 169, or 157 shades of grey — just a little over 7-bit.

Compare that with the NASA image (whether you think the NASA image has been tampered with or not, that’s unimportant for this explanation), shown below. Its histogram spans values from 0 through 255, showing that it takes up the entire 8-bit range.

"Ziggurat" Area in NASA Photo AS11-38-5564

“Ziggurat” Area in NASA Photo AS11-38-5564

Histogram of Pixel Values in Original NASA Image of Ziggurat Location

Histogram of Pixel Values in Original NASA Image of Ziggurat Location

The immediate implication is that the ziggurat version has LOST roughly half of its information, its dynamic range. Or, if you’re of the conspiracy mindset, then the NASA version has been stretched to give it 2x the range.

Another thing we can look at is those spikes in the dark end and the gaps in the bright ends. I was honestly surprised that these were present in the NASA one because what this shows is that the curves (or levels) have been adjusted (and I say that with full realization of its ability to be quote-mined). The way you get the spikes are when you compress a wide range of shades into a narrower range. Because pixels must have an integer (whole number) value, rounding effects mean that you’ll get some shades with more than others.

Similarly, the bright end has been expanded. This means the opposite – you had a narrow range of shades and those were re-mapped to a wider range. Again, due to rounding, you can get some values with no pixels in it.

This can be done manually in software, or it can also be done automatically. Given the spacing of them, it looks like a relatively basic adjustment has been made rather than any more complicated mapping, for both the Call of Duty Zombies image with the ziggurat and NASA’s.

The fact that BOTH the ziggurat one and the NASA one have these gaps and spikes is evidence that both have been adjusted brightness-wise in software. But, taken with the noise in the ziggurat one, the smaller dynamic range, and the reduced detail, these all combine to make the case for the ziggurat version being a later generation image that’s been modified more than the NASA one (see previous post on noise and detail — this section was originally written for that post but I decided to move it to this one).

Dark Pixels, Shadow, and Light

What is also readily apparent in the NASA version is that there are many more black pixels in the region of interest. This could mean several very non-conspiracy things (as opposed to the “only” answer being that NASA took a black paintbrush to it).

One is what I have stated before and I think is a likely contributor: The image was put through an automatic processing code either during or after scanning, before being placed online. As a default in most scanning software, a histogram of the pixel values is created and anything darker than 0.1% is made to be shade 0, and anything brighter than 0.1% of the pixels is made to be shade 255. Sometimes, for some reason, this default is set to 1% instead, though it is also manually variable (usually).

Another part of this that I think is most likely is that, as I’ve said before, shadows on the moon are very dark. A rough back-of-the-envelope calculation is that earthshine, the only “direct” light into some sun-shadowed regions on the near side, is around 1000x fainter than sunlight would be. On the far side – and these photos are from the far side – there is no earthshine to contribute.

Which means the only other way to get light into the shadowed region would be scattering from the lunar surface itself. Mike misreads several things and calls me out where I admitted to making a mistake in my first video (Mike, how many mistakes have you made in this discussion? I’ve called you out on two very obvious ones in previous posts, and I call you out on another, below). Yes, you can get scattered light onto objects that are in shadow. If you have a small object casting a small shadow (such as a lunar module), then you have a very large surface surrounding it that will scatter relatively a lot of light into it. That’s why the Apollo astronauts are lit even when they are in the shadow of an object.

However, if you have a very large object – such as a 3-km-high crater rim – that casts a shadow – such as into the crater – then there is much less surrounding surface available to scatter light into the shadowed region. Also, remember that the moon reflects (on average) only about 10% of the light it receives*. So already any lunar surface that’s lit only by scattered light would be 10x fainter than the sun-lit part, and that’s assuming that ALL light scattered off the sun-lit lunar surface scatters into the shadowed parts to be reflected back into the camera lens, as opposed to the vast majority of it that just gets scattered into space.

*As opposed to Mike’s claim: “Since the lunar surface is made mostly of glass, titanium and aluminum, it tends to be very highly reflective.” Um, no (source 1, source 2).

Now, yes, there will still be some light scattered into the shadowed region, but it will be very little, relatively speaking, compared with the shadow of a small object, and it will be even less, relatively speaking, when compared with the sun-lit surrounding surface. For example, let’s look at AS11-38-5606:

Apollo Image AS11-38-5606

Apollo Image AS11-38-5606

This image was taken at a low sun angle, and there are a lot of shadows being cast. And look! They’re all very very black. The photographic exposure would need to be much longer in order to capture any of the minuscule amount of light scattered into the shadowed regions that were then scattered into the camera.

Now, before we go back to the ziggurat, let’s look at another part of this claim. Mike states: “I have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of lunar images where the shadows are far from “pitch-black (or almost pitch-black).””

In support of this, Mike points to images such as AS11-44-6609:

NASA Apollo Photo AS11-44-6609

NASA Apollo Photo AS11-44-6609

If you go to the full resolution version, you do see that the shadowed regions are not pitch black! WTF is going on!?

First, if you check the levels in photoshop, the 0.1% clip has either already been applied or it was never relevant to this image. So this does not falsify my previous statement of that being a possibility for the black shadows in the “ziggurat” one.

Second, let’s look at a few photos later, AS11-44-6612:

NASA Apollo Photo AS11-44-6612

NASA Apollo Photo AS11-44-6612

See that big crater up to the top? That’s the same one that’s near the middle-right in #-6609. Notice that instead of having a greyscale equivalent of around 25%, this time that very same shadow, taken just a few seconds or minutes later but at a different angle and part of the lens has decreased in brightness by over half. Meanwhile, shadows that are in roughly the same position of the frame (as in middle-right versus upper-middle) have a similar brightness as that shadow did in #-6609.

Also, look at the black space above the lunar surface (the right of the frame unless you’ve rotated it). The part of the sky near the top and bottom is ~5% black. The part near the middle is around 13% black. Or, 2-3x as bright, when space should be completely dark in this kind of exposure under ideal optics.

If you’re a photographer, you probably know where I’m going with this: The simplest explanation is that this is either a lens flare from shooting in the general direction of the sun, and/or this is grime on the lens causing some scattering. Less probable but still possible would be a light leak.

And, a closer examination of the shadowed areas does show some very, very faint detail that you can bring out, but only towards the middle of the image where that overall glow is.

Meanwhile, if you look through, say, the Apollo 11 image catalog and look at the B&W images, the shadows in pretty much every orbital photo are completely black. The shadows in the color ones are not.

As a photographer, this is the most likely explanation to me to explain AS11-44-6609 and images like it where Mike points to shadows that are lit:

  1. Original Photography:
    • Image was taken in the general direction of the sun so that glare was present.
    • And/Or, there was dirt on the lens or on the window through which the astronauts were shooting.
    • This caused a more brightly lit part of the image to be in a given location, supported by other images on the roll that show the same brightness in the same location of the frame rather than the same geographic location on the moon.
    • Some scattered light from the lunar surface, into the shadowed regions, off the shadowed regions, into the camera, was recorded.
  2. Image Scanning:
    • Negative or print was scanned.
    • Auto software does a 0.1% bright/dark clip, making the darkest parts black and brightest parts white. This image shows that effect in its histogram.
    • This causes shadows at the periphery to be black and show no detail.
    • Since the center is brighter, there’s no real effect to the brightness, and the very faint details from the scattered light are visible.

Contrast that with AS11-38-5564 (the ziggurat one), which has even illumination throughout. A simple levels clip would eliminate all or almost all detail in the shadowed regions. And/or, the original exposure was somewhat too short to record any scattered light. And/or the film used was not sensitive enough, which is bolstered as a potential explanation by what I noted above – that orbital B&W photography from the mission shows black shadows while orbital color shows a teensy bit of detail in some of the shadows.

In my opinion, that is a much more likely explanation given the appearance of the other photos in the Apollo magazines than what Mike claims, that NASA painted over it.

Which after long last brings us back to the ziggurat. Even in Mike’s exemplar, the stuff in the brightest shadow are BARELY visible, much less-so than the wall of his ziggurat. I suppose if Mike wants to claim that the ziggurat walls are 100% reflective, plus someone has done a bleep-load of enhancement in the area, then sure, he can come up with a way for the walls to be lit even when they are in shadow.

Do I think that’s the most likely explanation, especially taken in light of everything else? No.

Final Thoughts on This Part

One more part left in this series, and by this point I’ve really addressed the main, relevant points in Mike’s five-part series.

Far from “destroying” my arguments, I think at the very, very most, he’s raised some potential doubt for one or two small parts of my argument that, taken individually if one is conspiracy-minded and already believes in ancient artifacts on the moon, then those individual doubts could be used to make it look like the ziggurat is real.

However, taken as a whole, and taken with less of a conspiratorial mindset and a mindset where you must provide extraordinary evidence for your extraordinary claim, and you must show that the null hypothesis is rejected by a preponderance of indisputable evidence, then the ziggurat is not real.

August 24, 2012

Let’s Talk About Image Noise and Detail


Part 2 of N in my response to Mike Bara’s 5-part post on the lunar ziggurat stuff.

I’ve talked about these things before a couple times, including in my last podcast episode, but clearly some did not understand it and some did not clearly read what I stated. So let’s go through this very carefully.

These are important concepts and applicable to a wide variety of applications – not only in identifying pseudoscience, but also in understanding how digital images work, and the likelihood that you who are currently reading this has a digital camera is pretty high.

Image Noise, Gaussian

I’ll quote first from a previous podcast episode:

All photographs have an inherent level of noise because of very basic laws of thermodynamics — in other words, the fact that the atoms and molecules are moving around means that you don’t know exactly what data recorded is real. The colder you can get your detector, the less noise there will be, which is why astronomers will sometimes cool their CCDs with liquid nitrogen or even liquid helium.

That said, I haven’t really explained what noise is, and I’m going to do so again from the digital perspective. There are two sources of noise. The first is what I just mentioned, where the atoms and electrons moving around will sometimes be recorded as a photon when there really wasn’t one. The cooler the detector, the less they’ll move around and so the less they’ll be detected. This is purely random, and so it will appear in some pixels more than others and so you don’t know what’s really going on.

The other kind of noise is purely statistical. The recording of photons by digital detectors is a statistical process, and it is governed by what we call “Poisson Statistics.” That means that there is an inherent, underlying uncertainty where you don’t know how many photons hit that pixel even though you have a real number that was recorded. The uncertainty is the square-root of the number that was recorded.

… What’s the effect of noise when you don’t have a lot of light recorded? Well, the vast majority of you out there listening to this probably already know because you’ve taken those low-light photos that turn out like crap. They’re fuzzy, the color probably looks like it has tiny dots of red or green or blue all over it, and there’s little dynamic range. That’s a noisy image because of the inherent uncertainty in the light hitting every pixel in your camera, but so that it wasn’t completely dark, your camera multiplied all the light – the noise included – in order to make something visible.

With the idea of noise in mind, after an image is taken, there is only one way to scientifically reduce the noise without any guesswork based on a computer algorithm: Shrink it. When you bin the pixels, as in doing something like combining a 2×2 set of four pixels into one, you are effectively adding together the light that was there, averaging it, and so reducing the amount of noise by a factor of 2. …

Noise is random across the whole thing, and it makes it look grainy. A perfectly smooth, white surface could look like a technicolor dust storm if you photograph it under low light.

Now with diagrams!

Below is a 500 by 500 pixel image made of pure, random, Gaussian noise. I created the noise in software and gave it a mean of 128 (neutral grey in 8-bit space) and a standard deviation of 25, meaning that about 68% of the pixels will be within ±25 shades of 128, about 95% will be within ±50 shades, and about 99.7% will be within ±75 shades. Also included below is a histogram showing the number of pixels at each shade of grey. As you can see, it’s a lovely bell curve that we all know and love with a mean of 128 and standard deviation of 25 (actual standard deviation is 24.946, but that’s because we’re not using an infinite number of points).

500x500 Pixel Image of Gaussian Noise

500×500 Pixel Image of Gaussian Noise

Histogram of 500x500 Pixel Image of Gaussian Noise

Histogram of 500×500 Pixel Image of Gaussian Noise

Now, in the diagram below, I’ve binned everything 2×2. As in, it’s now 250 by 250 pixels. What happens to the noise?

250x250 Pixel Image of Gaussian Noise

250×250 Pixel Image of Gaussian Noise

Histogram of 250x250 Pixel Image of Gaussian Noise

Histogram of 250×250 Pixel Image of Gaussian Noise

The distribution of pixel values is still a bell curve, but it’s narrower. The mean is still 128. But, the width of the noise – the amount of noise – has decreased to 12.439 … very close to the theoretical decrease of 2x to 12.5.

Now, bin it 4×4:

125x125 Pixel Image of Gaussian Noise

125×125 Pixel Image of Gaussian Noise

Histogram of 125x125 Pixel Image of Gaussian Noise

Histogram of 125×125 Pixel Image of Gaussian Noise

The Gaussian distribution is narrower still, this time its width is 6.193, every close to the theoretical value of a reduction of 4x to be 6.125.

When I select a 100 by 60 pixel region of shadow in the ziggurat image, the width of the noise is ±1.66 shades. Binning 2×2 and it drops to 1.58, 3×3 drops to 1.41, 4×4 drops to 1.33, 5×5 drops it to 1.29, and 10×10 drops it to 0.87.

So, that’s what random noise is, and that’s what happens when you decrease an image – you reduce the noise. This is an unambiguous and inalienable FACT.

Image Noise, “Salt & Pepper” and Texture

Another type of noise is simply defective pixels, or, in the analog days, defective film grains or cosmic rays hitting the film. These manifest as single, individual pixels scattered throughout the image that are either very bright or very dark relative to their surroundings.

A related kind of noise is from digitized printed photos, and this is a texture. If you’ve ever scanned in something like a 100-year-old photograph (or a poorly stored 10-year-old photograph), you’ve likely seen this kind of noise. In fact, Mike says that this is his working hypothesis as to why the shadowed regions aren’t one solid color now: Photo album residue. Um, even if that’s the case, this is still technically noise because it’s masking the signal.

Image Noise, Removing

As I’ve stated, reducing an image size is one way to reduce noise. It does, however, remove detail. The reason this whole thing got started was that Mike stated, quite directly: “What Mr. Robbins didn’t tell you is that a large chunk of the “noise” that appears in the image he “processed” was deliberately induced – by him. … In fact, anyone who knows anything about image enhancement knows that scaling/reducing an image induces more noise and reduces detail by design.” (emphasis his)

We’ll get to what detail is in the next section, but quite clearly and directly, Mike states that reducing an image in size creates noise. That statement is factually incorrect. In his latest post (part 2 of 5), he wants to know why I reduced the image size at all if it means reducing detail (which is talked about below). If he bothered to read in context, the reason was so that I could line up the ziggurat image with the NASA one to figure out exactly where it is. They weren’t at the same scale, so one had to be scaled relative to the other. It was easier to reduce the size of the smaller ziggurat image than increase the size of the much larger full image, so that’s what I did. It really doesn’t change much of anything.

Anyway, moving on … So, how do you remove noise without removing information that’s there? In reality, you cannot.

The method of reducing an image in size is one way, but clearly that will remove detail, and when you do this with a small image, you don’t necessarily have that detail to spare. Though as I’ve talked about before, astronomers will often use this method because it is the ONLY way to NOT introduce algorithm-generated information into the image.

Otherwise, there are several other methods that can be used to reduce the noise, but all of them will reduce the actual signal in the image to some extent. Depending on the exact algorithm and the exact kind of image you’re working with (as in, is it something like a forest versus clouds versus sand), different algorithms work better to preserve the original detail. But, you will always lose some of that detail.

One algorithm that’s easy to understand is called a “median” algorithm. This is an option in Photoshop, but it’s not the default “Reduce Noise” filter (I do not know and couldn’t easily find what the algorithm used by Photoshop is by default – it’s probably some proprietary version of a fancier algorithm). The median method takes a pixel and a window of pixels around it. Let’s just say 1 pixel around it to keep this simple.

So you have a pixel, and you have all the pixels that it touches, so you have 9 pixels in total. You then take the median value, which is the middle number of a sorted list. So if the pixels in your 3×3 block have values 105, 92, 73, 95, 255, 109, 103, 99, 107, then the median of those is 103 because that’s the middle number once you sort the list. You’d save that to the new version.

You would then move one pixel over in the original version and save the median of a 3×3 block with that one at the center to the new version. And so on.

Why median instead of average? Because that way hot pixels and dead pixels don’t affect you nearly as much. That pixel value of 255 would be a hot pixel in that 3×3 block and it would make the average 115 as opposed to the median, 10.5% dimmer. If, say, the 109-valued pixel were also hot, and it was 255, the median would STILL be 103, but the average would now be 132.

So that’s one method. The end result is that the outliers will be removed, and you’ve reduced the noise. Choosing a larger window reduces the noise more because you’re sampling a broader range of pixels from which to get a median (this is under the assumption that the number of hot and cold pixels is less than the number of good pixels).

But, in doing this, you are changing the information there, and every algorithm with which I’m familiar to remove noise will also remove some details. The details to go first are usually those small outliers that are real, like if you’re photographing a night scene and have some stars in your shot. Median noise reduction will remove those stars fairly effectively in addition to the noise. As I said, there are other algorithms that can be used depending on what exactly is in the image, but they will change the information that is there, and they will reduce detail by a measurable amount.

It should be noted that Mike’s default seems to be the Photoshop “Reduce Noise” filter. Here’s the result when he runs it on the image, ©his blog, with the “original” for comparison first:

Original Lunar Ziggurat Image from Call of Duty Zombies Forum

Original Lunar Ziggurat Image from Call of Duty Zombies Forum

AS11-38-5564, with Ziggurat, Noise Reduction by Mike Bara

AS11-38-5564, with Ziggurat, Noise Reduction by Mike Bara

Ignoring the contrast enhancement, some of the noise is reduced a bit, but so is some of the detail (which is something to which he admits (“It’s a bit blurry”)). Once you lose that detail, you cannot get it back. Well, unless you go to a previous version.

Detail, Resolution, and Pixel Scale

Noise is not at all related to detail except in its ability to obfuscate that detail. Detail is effectively the same as resolution, where according to my handy built-in Mac dictionary, resolution is defined for images as: “the smallest interval measurable by a scientific (esp. optical) instrument; the resolving power. The degree of detail visible in a photographic or television images.”

Pixel scale is similar and related — it is the length in the real world that a pixel spans. So if I take a photograph of my room, and I take another photograph with the same camera of the Grand Canyon, the length that each pixel covers in the first is going to be much smaller than the length that each pixel covers in the second. The pixel scale might be, say, 1 cm/px (~1/2 inch) for the photo of my room, while it might be around 10 m/px (~30 ft) for the photo of the Grand Canyon.

Don’t see the difference? It’s really subtle. Here’s a comment I got from an anonymous reviewer (whom I figured out who it was) of a paper I wrote last year that explains it in a way only an older curmudgeony scientist can:

Citing “resolution” in m/pixel is like citing distance in km/s. Scale = length/pixel; resolution = length, as is a function of several parameters in addition to sampling scale. Nearly everyone in the planetary community gets this wrong, which makes the terrestrial remote sensing community think we’re idiots.

So, my point in going through these definitions, besides getting them clearly out there, is that, obviously, if you are reducing an image in size to reduce the noise, you are obviously also reducing the detail, resolution, and pixel scale. Or is it increasing the pixel scale ’cause your pixels now cover a larger area? Whatever the proper direction is, you get the idea, and to suggest that I implied or stated otherwise is wrong.

Another thing we can do in this section is compare the detail of the ziggurat image with the NASA version, which returns to one of my original points that the NASA version shows more detail.

This is not something that Mike is disputing. But to him, it’s just evidence of a conspiracy. He simply dismisses this by stating, “NASA has tons of specialized software and high end computing resources that could easily do many of [these things like adding detail].” As I’ve stated before, if Michael simply wants to go the “this is a conspiracy and no amount of evidence you give will convince me otherwise,” then we can be done with this – something I’ll address in another post shortly.

Otherwise, the simplest explanation for this is that the ziggurat version is a later generation after having suffered several copyings. This is not a known fact, rather it is an educated opinion based on the available evidence that’s not influenced by the conspiracy mindset that Mike and Richard have.

Final Thoughts on These Points

Throughout Part 2 of his five-part rebuttal, Mike accuses me of making straw man arguments (though he doesn’t use that term), while doing that exact thing to me — making straw men of what I said and arguing against them. I never stated that reducing an image makes it better overall, I stated that the noise will decrease and so the noise profile will be better (as in less). Whether interpolation “enhances” detail is a topic for something else and is not at all directly related to the veracity of this lunar ziggurat, so I’m not addressing it here.

Part 3 to come on dynamic range, shadows, and internal reflections. At the moment, a part 4 is planned to be the last part and it’s going to examine language, tone, mentality, funding, and the overarching conspiracy mindset. It might be my last post on the subject, as well.


P.S. Not that this is any evidence for anything whatsoever, but I thought I’d throw out there the fact that even the people on the conspiracy website “Above Top Secret” say this is a hoax by someone. Again, this is evidence of nothing, really, but I thought it a tiny intriguing twist at least worth mentioning. Kinda like the fact that even though almost all UFOlogists think that the Billy Meier story is a hoax, Michael Horn keeps at it.

August 23, 2012

Where Is the Lunar Ziggurat, Anyway?


This is I guess part 1 of what will be at least a three part reply to the five-part series that Mike has posted tonight. His posts are very long and so I’m unlikely to go into as many details as the nearly line-by-line of my first response to him. I also hope he’ll be kind enough to grant me a few days to respond before calling me further names – he took a week, after all – but we’ll see.

This post is specifically in response to his fourth post in the series in which he claims that the location of the ziggurat is something that I’ve missed entirely. There are of course plenty of names that he calls me in the process, which is also interesting considering that on his radio appearance tonight he’s accused me of lying about him, writing nasty comments, and putting attacks out.

I think if anyone has examined what I’ve written about this subject versus what Mike has, they’ll be able to see who actually does the writing of nasty comments, attacks, etc.

There are also numerous side-points made in Mike’s post that I think are side issues and not really worth dedicating time to mentioning. Suffice to say, you can read it if you really want to.

Anyway, the subject at hand: The crux of his “part 4” is that Mike claimed I “missed” the location of the ziggurat by somewhere around one half to one mile, putting it outside of the LROC NAC frame I’ve been linking to. Since Mike doesn’t believe any digital space agency images these days anyway, I’m not sure why he chose to harp on this (well, likely because he thinks it makes me look stupid and “shows his [Stuart’s] incompetence”), but we’ll go with it. He also says that this means all the detail regions of other images I’ve shown are showing the wrong place.

He mentioned this at least three times, and Mike claimed the actual location is 174.24°E, -8.90°N, and he did this by lining up a few craters.

As Mike has posted images directly from my blog during this “discussion,” I’ll link to one of his:

Mike's Ziggurat Location

Mike’s Ziggurat Location (click to enlarge)

Where’s the Ziggurat

I was sent this a few days ago by someone I know who prefers to go by the pseudonym “GoneToPlaid.” In it, he goes through what I think is a pretty good analysis, matching up not four, but 25 different points to show where the ziggurat location would be if it were real.

Here’s the series, and you can click on any of them for a larger version. The only issue I have with this is that his final footprint (the fourth image) just is the “lit” part of the alleged ziggurat and does not show the extent of the NE and NW “walls.”

AS11-38-5564 and M149377797 Ziggurat Location, A

AS11-38-5564 and M149377797 Ziggurat Location, part A

AS11-38-5564 and M149377797 Ziggurat Location, B

AS11-38-5564 and M149377797 Ziggurat Location, part B

AS11-38-5564 and M149377797 Ziggurat Location, C

AS11-38-5564 and M149377797 Ziggurat Location, part C

AS11-38-5564 and M149377797 Ziggurat Location, D

AS11-38-5564 and M149377797 Ziggurat Location, part D

And, here’s the image with the alleged ziggurat so you can compare and see that we’re talking about the same region in the Apollo AS11-38-5564 region.

Original Lunar Ziggurat Image from Call of Duty Zombies Forum

Original Lunar Ziggurat Image from Call of Duty Zombies Forum

Mike of course makes my point then, since this is where his ziggurat is: “What he [Stuart] points to as the “feature” is … simply a hill and a crater next to (“behind”) it. … It’s obvious from comparing the LROC map on the web page he links to that we he thinks is the Ziggurat – or what he asserts to his “fans” is the Ziggurat – is actually just an “X” shaped feature some small distance away.”

Since that IS the location of the feature, Bara has really made my point: What I pointed it is a natural feature. Ergo, since what I pointed to is where his ziggurat is, and his location is wrong, the ziggurat is not a real feature.

Final Thoughts on This Issue

I had done my own analysis originally, way back in July, to find the location. That’s how I found the location in lat/lon. I had matched up about a dozen craters to do so. I happen to post GoneToPlaid’s versions above because I think he shows an excellent job in a good, easy-to-see presentation style.

Mike is showing four points that are incorrectly linked up to the overhead non-oblique shots in this case, and he has a few others in other places on his blog post. His craters are actually correct in his “Missed it by that Much” image on the above-linked blog post, but it is not in the next image.

I’m surprised that this is actually an issue, though perhaps I shouldn’t’ve been. Anyway, as is now I hope very clear, my initial placement of the ziggurat region was correct, Mike’s location is clearly not.

This doesn’t prove/disprove the ziggurat at all, but it does show more incorrect image analysis.

One could ask at this point why I keep talking about this. In fact, some have, on both sides of the “issue.” The reasons are several, and you can read much more on my thoughts on this in the comments section of this post, starting with Tara’s post.

But to briefly summarize, with every post I have made on the topic, I’ve tried to address this from a critical thinking standpoint as well as show how you can go searching for information on your own and figure out what’s going on. There are also numerous misconceptions floating around throughout this and they’re common, and they don’t just apply to this tiny, insignificant “issue.” For example, in this post I showed you how you can go do your own independent analysis to figure out where an image is on the lunar grid. Maybe that’ll be useful in Jeopardy some day.

Almost everything I’ve talked about is applicable to a much broader array of things, and also, I think, this process is important to show how to investigate claims. And, since every scientist has to be able to convince their own colleagues of their results, explicitly being able to “get all your ducks in a row” is an ongoing learning experience for my own career.

In terms of “What’s the Harm?”, in this kind of stuff, there really isn’t too much specifically. You can believe whatever you want. If you want to believe there’s a ziggurat in some location on the moon built by ancient aliens or whatever, fine, I really, honestly don’t care. I had never heard of the “Brookings Institute report” before I listened to Coast to Coast and heard Hoagland talk about it, and I can almost guarantee you that the vast majority of astronomers have never heard of it, either. But more on that in (probably) part 3.

But, when you then spend money on this kind of stuff, such as the people who gave money to send Richard Hoagland to test hyperdimensional physics stuff in Egypt during the Venus transit but then he didn’t go and hasn’t published anything on it, well, I see that as harm. Yes, it was those peoples’ money and they can do what they want with it, but if they made the choice to send Richard $100 instead of buying groceries for a week (as one message going around has claimed, though I don’t know if it’s real or not), that’s a problem.

Part 2 to come …

August 16, 2012

Kaguya (SELENE / かぐや) Photographs of the Moon, Specifically the Claimed Ziggurat Area


After this point, Mike needs to answer the basic question of: What would it take to falsify your claim?

It’s a basic question that every person should always ask of anything, including their own beliefs. I’ve explained several times what it would take to falsify my claims that Mike’s ziggurat claim is false. Each time Mike has posted something new about it, he has generally ignored my previous rebuttal as “silly” or “twaddle” or some other such thing, either outright stating (at least once) or implying (several times) that my analysis would be easy to show was wrong, and yet he has not done so.

The Parry This Time

…[H]e’s implying that there are images from “non-NASA” missions which don’t showthe [sic] Ziggurat on them, and further, that he has seen them. How else could he claim they “don’t show the feature” if he hasn’t seen them? If true and these images exist, then he should produce them. The burden of proof is not on me to produce them, it’s on him. He’s the one claiming they exist, not me.

…If there are such “non-NASA” images, then produce them, otherwise shut-up about them and admit you BS’d your readers into thinnking [sic] they ever existed in the first place.

On a small part of this, I would actually agree: I did make the claim that there are non-NASA images that cover the site, and so the burden of evidence is upon me to show that.

In fact, it was the second of my main three points as to why I think that the ziggurat is not real: “2. Why other images of the same place taken by several different craft (including non-NASA ones), including images at almost 100x the original resolution of the Apollo photo, don’t show the feature.”

Though, clearly, I was NOT necessarily saying that non-NASA craft had imaged it at 100x the original Apollo.

Of course, Mike misses the point that it is up to him to prove the INITIAL claim that the ziggurat is real when he found it on a video game forum.

Kaguya / SELENE / かぐや

Kaguya was the nickname of the Selenological and Enginering Explorer (SELENE) spacecraft to the Moon, built and launched and operated by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) that flew for several years, 2007-2009. It had several cameras on it, and it was the first to image the Apollo landing sites and actually show something from the missions due to its high resolution of up to 10 meters per pixel (actual pixel scale depended on orbit and instrument).

Using their online data search and retrieval system, you can (and I did) search for and find several images that cover the site. Among them are the following. Note: JAXA is picky, and you MUST go to their main page, agree to their terms, click Start and then you can view the links below.

To remind you, the Apollo photo has a pixel scale of ROUGHLY 65 meters per pixel at that location.

Example Image

I’ve downloaded those six and contained within the obtuse file format (see this link for dealing with it) is the JPG thumbnail. Within the two files at 10 mpp, you have the IMG file that can be read with ISIS.

Here’s one of them, full-res of the target region (again, reason for the wavy edges is the geometric correction I’ve talked about many times before). Make sure you click to enlarge.


DTMTCO_03_05874S092E1744SC with “Ziggurat” Area at Full-Resolution (click to enlarge)

That’s at nearly 7x the pixel scale of the Apollo photo.

In my post from early yesterday morning, I gave you the following context image of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera’s WAC and NAC:

WAC and NAC of Alleged Lunar Ziggurat

WAC and NAC of Alleged Lunar Ziggurat (click to enlarge)

So you know where the ziggurat is. Now we can also compare the WAC with the Kaguya image:

Alleged Ziggurat Area - WAC and Kaguya Comparison

Alleged Ziggurat Area – WAC and Kaguya Comparison

The sun angles are all somewhat different, though I gave you several other images at other sun angles from SELENE above.

Where Do We Go Now?

I’ve put many of my cards on the table. I think I’ve shown pretty well my points.

But at the same time, we have not progressed anywhere. Mike has not directly responded to any of my direct, specific points, critiques, areas where I explained that he was incorrect about some fundamental points of image processing and analysis (such as with noise), nor refutations/answers to his questions/conspiracies (such as the last one about the “Venetian Blinds” effect of all WAC images). He’s continued to maintain the NASA images are fake, and then insisted that I supply those from other agencies. I think it’d be hard to say that JAXA is under NASA control, or that JAXA painted the ziggurat area black, though I’m sure he’ll probably claim something like they cloned it out of the JAXA image. Hard to back that up considering that, as far as is possible to tell, it matches the other images of the site, along with the other images from Kaguya.

At this point, though, we’re really again at the question of: What does it take to falsify your beliefs? We can’t move forward if the answer is “nothing,” nor if the response to these SELENE photos is simply that it’s another part of the conspiracy.

I understand that Mike feels the need to defend this considering that he’s put so much effort into it and made it a centerpiece of his book due out in October. But seriously – again – I think that to any objective observer I’ve proven my point and Mike has failed to prove his.

August 15, 2012

Understanding Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Wide-Angle Camera Images


In an update to Mike’s blog post from yesterday, Mike displays further lack of reading comprehension plus an inability to understand images and image processing — something that he claims to be better at than I.

Another Conspiracy Claim

The crux of Mike’s bone this time is that the WAC image I linked to has a “Venetian Blinds” effect going on. Why?

Well, Mike says he’s an engineer, so one would think that he would know of the ways to look into this. I’ll help those of you who don’t have Mike’s expertise that he did not exercise: The camera employs 7 filters, and they act like a grating, spreading the light out across the detector. It’s just how the image was recorded. I happen to use command-line software to reconstruct the images, and it can be fairly obtuse. But, 10 seconds of Google searching shows that there’s apparently easy-to-use freeware software out there to do this all by yourself.

If you’d like to read more about it, here’s the official journal paper outlining the craft and its instruments. If you do a google scholar search, then you can find a free PDF copy of it. Here’s a paper specifically on the camera, but I don’t see an obvious link for a free copy.

To quote from the 2007 paper:

The seven-band color capability of the WAC is provided by a color filter array mounted directly over the detector, providing different sections of the CCD with different filters acquiring data in the seven channels in a “pushframe” mode. Continuous coverage in any one color is provided by repeated imaging at a rate such that each of the narrow framelets of each color band overlap.

Every WAC image looks like that coming raw from the LROC website, though I also gave you a link to the global mosaics where you can look at the region yourself, on your own, without needing to assemble the WAC. Again, the coordinates are 174.34°E, -8.97°N.

So to recap: That’s how the WACs look, and it’s a simple matter to process them into a human-happy image. This has been in the literature at least since 2007, and if Mike bothered to look, he’d have seen that EVERY WAC image looks that way and requires reassembly. Why don’t they do that automatically for public consumption? I have no idea. Possibly because if revised algorithms come out to do an incrementally better job, they wouldn’t have to reprocess everything. Same reason the NACs are not properly georectified.

Contrast that with Mike’s conspiratorial ideas:

Hmm. I guess maybe the guys at NASA don’t want anybody sniffing around this area, do they? This is just more proof that you can’t trust digital images NASA produces. They must have posted this temporarily while they’re busy painting over the Ziggurat.

So the truth is, neither of the images he’s posted show anything like what he’s claiming, and they sure as hell don’t show the Ziggurat area in sufficient resolution to make a judgement about it.

Do you know what “truth” means? I mean, really? Another conspiracy? Pretty poor one considering that anyone who looks can easily figure out how to assemble the WACs. And anyone who looks can find out why they look that way.

Another Look at the LROC Images

Here, I’ll do more of your work for you. Here’s a screenshot of part of the NAC frame, from the link I gave before, that covers part of the area you claim the ziggurat to cover. I’ve even superposed part of the footprint of your ziggurat over the image, and this is far from full-res. (Note, this is a bit different from the footprint I showed towards the end of the video; I was a bit off then and a reexamination has led me to revise the approximate footprint. Figuring out exactly what’s going on between the oblique Apollo image and the rectified WAC/NAC images is a tad hard.)

NAC of Alleged Ziggurat Area

NAC of Alleged Ziggurat Area, Approximate Ziggurat Footprint in Green (click to enlarge)

The footprint above is obviously unconstrained off the left side of the NAC. But, here’s a family portrait where I think I have it better figured out:

WAC and NAC of Alleged Lunar Ziggurat

WAC and NAC of Alleged Lunar Ziggurat (Notice, None Present) (click to enlarge)

Let’s see, what else can I think of with what I’m showing that might give Mike a conspiratorial claim … okay, a few potential trivial things that could set the conspiracy-minded off:

  • The WAC has wavy borders for reasons I discussed in my last podcast episode — basically, it’s a topography and spacecraft pointing correction.
  • The ziggurat footprint is a weird shape because the original Apollo shot is very much oblique (a perspective) and when rectified to a lat/lon gird as if you’re looking down on it, it is elongated and not square — you can increase the height (and rotate by 180°) the Bara/Hoagland image by ~5x to get an idea of what it would look like.
  • North/South are flipped if you look at the images on the LROC website — again, that’s just how they’re sent back to Earth and automatically set up for the web interface, nothing conspiratorial as it’s clearly documented for anyone who looks.
  • On the ACT-REACT map that I linked to above, if you turn on NAC footprints, there does not appear to be one that covers the region occupied by the claimed ziggurat. This is because they are using an earlier set of footprints (this is a recent NAC), but if you use the search for the coordinates elsewhere on the site, you’ll find this one.
  • There are deep shadows because the sun was only 15° above the horizon when the image was taken. Since I have no idea why that image was taken (I’m not on the science/imaging team), I can’t guess as to why it was taken at that sun angle, but it’s entirely possible that it just happened to be a region not covered yet by NAC and they had a spare moment with the camera. But that lit part in the center of the NAC that I show is the left half of the claimed ziggurat (remember it’s rotated 180° in Mike’s version, so North is pointing down in his).

Final Thoughts … For Now

That’s about all I can think of, though I’m certain that Mike will find something else or just claim I’m lying and these images don’t show what I claim them to show or that I’ve now shown that the images he claimed were mythical now have two members but I need to find others. I guess we’ll see.

Oh, and it might be worth recapping at this point: This was never originally about Mike Bara. This was about a claim made by Richard Hoagland about an image he had that I then did a short analysis on and showed was likely hoaxed by someone. It’s turned into something with Mike because he has chosen to vehemently defend it, though his defense has been made of name-calling and conspiracies.

August 14, 2012

Mike, You Seem to Miss the Point


A quick note for those of you following the whole ziggurat on the moon saga, Mike published an update on his blog tonight. He first repeats the old canard that this is a hate blog, I’m with the “psychopathic cyberstalking hater crowd,” blah blah blah … oh, and he’s putting “Dr.” in “quotes” in front of my name now. Not quite sure what that’s supposed to mean other than an insult.

But seriously Mike, if it makes you feel better to think of this as a hate blog … tough. If you are incapable of facing people who point out flaws in your work and the only way you can deal with it is to decide that hatred is what motivates them, I feel sorry for you. If you were a real scientist, want to play in the same arena, or were at all familiar with the way science works, you would know that critique of your ideas goes with the territory, and it is always the burden of the person making the new claim to back it up against all points raised.

The Obvious

Towards the beginning of his post, Mike states, “I skimmed [Stuart’s blog post], but most of it was so silly and just plain wrong … .”

Mike, this might work for your Facebook fans, but pretty much everyone else can see that you have not proven your point. They can also see that your claims that my rebuttals are “so silly” and “plain wrong” without actually demonstrating that is just punting on your part, especially when it is I who have illustrated and explaind that it is you who have made some fairly fundamental errors in your understanding of image processing.

The Missed Point

I think the important part of his post is that Mike seems to have completely missed the point. Mike stated:

Now setting aside for a moment the issue of whether I give a [expletive] what his opinion is, one of the points he wants me to explain was just too weird to pass up:

“Why other images of the same place taken by several different craft (including non-NASA ones), including images at almost 100x the original resolution of the Apollo photo, don’t show the feature.”

That of course is not so weird, but then he fails to show any of these mythical images he claims exist save one. This one:


Yes, I’m serious. This is an image he’s claiming has “100x” the resolution of the Zigguart photo. Based on this, he’s claiming that the Ziggurat is just “a crater.”



First, note that he took my image, linking directly. I could easily replace the image on WordPress with something childish, but I won’t. The “[image]” is a close-up of the LPI scan that we’re all familiar with by now.

Second, to start with, Mike is quoting the second of three reasons that I listed for concluding that the ziggurat is a hoax (and yet again, I did not say that it was Mike nor Richard Hoagland that faked it, I merely said they were the ones now promoting it). Those points are the ones anyone would need to answer before I (and most others) would consider it a non-obvoious forgery.

Third, and more to-the-point, Mike says the other images of the site are mythical except for the one I actually did show. Clearly, Mike has missed the numerous times I linked to the video I did about this where I show two other spacecraft images of the site, plus he completely missed the context for the blown-up image that I showed that he inserted into his own post without permission nor progeny noted.

If you actually read my post, this was the context and point of even showing that image:

Second, we can go to ANY other spacecraft image of this site and see that the ziggurat is not there, that it is a crater, as expected from the LPI version. I’ll refer you again to the video I made where I show the wide-angle camera shot of the site and the narrow-angle camera shot of the site. Okay, for fun, here’s the WAC:

M118715682M - 300% Crop of "Ziggurat Area"

M118715682M – 300% Crop of “Ziggurat Area”

Note that I blew this up to 300%. Notice all that pixelation and how it appears kinda soft? That’s because, gee, when you increase the size of an image, you can’t increase detail, it does NOT make it more clear, despite what Mike claimed. But suffice to say, that “X” between several craters is where the ziggurat is supposed to be. That larger shadow at the top is the shadow cast by Mike’s alleged ziggurat. It’s a crater.

The entire point of showing that image was to just show one example, albeit at slightly lower resolution (that WAC has a pixel scale of about 77 m/px whereas the Apollo image has a scale of ~65 m/px at that location — it varies significantly because the Apollo shot is oblique), and the other point was to illustrate something else earlier in that post that Mike got wrong — he claims that you can increase image detail by increasing an image’s size.

Fourth, to be very clear, I never claimed that image was 100x the original Apollo shot, I said that was the WAC, or wide-angle camera shot of the ziggurat. Mike, if you do not know these acronyms, just ask, I would be happy to clarify. And for the super-lazy, here’s a link to that WAC image. And, here’s a link to the NAC (narrow-angle camera) image M149377797R which has a pixel scale of just 0.78 meters per pixel. That’s the one that’s nearly 100x higher pixel scale than the Apollo image. And I show both in the video.

Mike, are you going to claim that all others are mythical until I post more? Do I need to do your work and search for any Kaguya images, Lunar Orbiter, or Clementine ones of that spot, too? Or are you going to take more of what I wrote out of context?

Edited to Add: For those who don’t know, when you go to those links, it’s a Flash interface where you can zoom in and out by using the tools on the left and bottom. Also, here’s a link to a map with the exact location of the alleged ziggurat centered. Again, the coordinates are 174.34°E, -8.97°N.

Final Thoughts

According to Mike’s blog post, his manager referred him to previous lengthy post explaining how his understanding of dynamic range, noise, and detail was flawed and why he had not shown to any extent of the imagination (except perhaps his) that the lunar ziggurat was a real feature. If that’s true, and if his manager (Adrienne?) does read this, I’ll repeat the salient points:

1. Mike is using as the claimed centerpiece of his upcoming book an image that he found online on the “Call of Duty Zombies” forum and believes to be the real, unadulterated version of Apollo photo AS11-38-5564.

2. This is despite not only all official versions, but also all other images of that location.

3. This is also despite many indications of the image itself that Mike is presenting has had the ziggurat added in (shown in both the video I produced and the original blog post).

4. Mike’s rebuttals have changed from first calling me incompetent (the nicest term he’s used) into simply a “paid NASA shill” (which is false as I explained in the intro here). So I guess that means none of my points are valid and that’s why he hasn’t tried to rebut them?

5. His blog post attempting to “prove” that the NASA image was fake was demonstrated by me to not prove his point and, in fact, demonstrated that Mike does not understand many fundamentals of image processing.

6. And now, this latest attempt to dismiss my analysis is an argument from ridicule — he has not actually addressed any of the points I raised, and he took an image completely out of context that I had posted. He also included the usual name-calling.

Mike’s Manager: Is this the kind of person that you want to represent?

Mike’s Facebook Fans: Step back for a moment and put aside your prejudices against anyone who’s “mainstream” and your prejudices for someone who claims to fight against “the powers that be.” You should evaluate a claim based on the evidence provided (Mike, in this case). Has he really presented convincing evidence that this feature is real and that EVERY OTHER PHOTO of the site is fake and that ALL the reasons that I pointed out for why the ziggurat appears to be hoaxed are wrong? Really? And, is Mike the kind of person that you want to follow and spend money on his books – a person who throws insults willy-nilly like a first-grade schoolyard bully, accuses all people who critically analyze his work of being “haters,” and does not actually address any challenges to his work but instead bans them and then ridicules them for posting under fake names?

Oh, and Mike — you should really stop complaining about “fake Facebook profiles of douche bags that don’t even have the balls to use their real names” who post on your Facebook page. The reason they post under fake names is that the moment anyone even begins to question your work, you ban them. How can they post on your page if they’re banned?

August 7, 2012

Mike Bara Defends the Lunar Ziggurat – My Response


As promised, Mike Bara has posted a rebuttal to my analysis of the lunar ziggurat. To recap from earlier, I noted these three points of what Mike must explain before I would revise my conclusion:

  1. Why there is less noise in the NASA original but more noise in Mike’s, and why is there more contrast (more pure black and more saturated highlights) in Mike’s? Both of these pretty much always indicate that the one with more noise and more contrast is a later generation … you can’t just Photoshop in more detail like that.
  2. Why other images of the same place taken by several different craft (including non-NASA ones), including images at almost 100x the original resolution of the Apollo photo, don’t show the feature.
  3. Why the shadowed parts of his ziggurat are lit up when they’re in shadow, on top of a hill, and not facing anything that should reflect light at them?

I also want to, very briefly, up-front address Mike’s claim (again) that I “hate” him with the evidence being my analysis of these claims. I addressed this idea at length before, and I recommend you read this blog post on it. That said, Mike, I do not hate you. I think you make – and I can show you make – factual misstatements, and I point them out. When you say that I attack you (which I don’t – I address your claims), it (a) makes you sound like you have a persecution complex, (b) makes you sound a tad paranoid and are in a black and white “us versus them” world, and (c) makes it easier for you to attack me rather than to address my analysis of your claims.

If you make it to the end of this ~4800 ~5400-word post, kudos! If you don’t, I’ll give you the spoiler (highlight it to see it): Mike only addressed 1.5 of the above, and I believe I have refuted them all successfully, but I fully encourage you to look into everything I talk about, yourself, and understand the concepts discussed … then maybe you’ll understand them better than Mike, like image noise and dynamic range.

The post I’m responding to of Mike’s is located here.

Edited to Add (08/08/2012 @1:09 MDT): Mike, 19 minutes ago, posted to Twitter: “Dear Dr. Robbins; I apologize. I thought you were just another dumbass like expat. I had no idea you were actually a paid NASA shill. My bad” Well then, I guess that covers it. If you think because I’ve destroyed your arguments that I’m a paid NASA shill, I guess there’s no validity to them at all. Incidentally and for the record, could you tell me where on my tax returns I’m supposed to put that NASA hush money? And in all seriousness for non-conspiracy folks, I make a meager living like most scientists and, like most astronomers, a fair amount of my salary does come from NASA-awarded grants, but I literally have less connection with NASA than a custodian who sweeps the floors of JPL. And this is, yet again, evidence of what I wrote three paragraphs above with points a-c.)

Initial Statements

I was somewhat surprised, Mike actually has taken note of me. He addresses me in his first paragraph:

“Last week after Richard C. Hoagland posted the image of Daedalus Ziggurat that I had forwarded to him to the Coast to Coast AM website, a mini-controversy exploded on the web over it, with the usual suspects claiming that Hoagland had “hoaxed” the image or that it was a “fraud,” and if it wasn’t a fraud, then his inability to see it as a fraud was proof he was either a “liar” or “incompetent.” The chief purveyor of this nonsense was somebody named Stuart Robbins on his blog.”

I will re-iterate and state yet again: I did not say that Richard hoaxed the image, I said that someone did. I did then state that Richard was not competent in the analysis if he did not see it was a hoax/fraud (or lied about how long he spent analyzing it) based upon the analysis I gave in my initial post and then video.

So, let’s see what evidence Mike has laid out that my analysis was flawed. After all, that is how any scientific discourse should be conducted.

(And P.S., Mike, that’s “Dr. Robbins,” but I don’t take offense.)

Next Four Paragraphs

The next four paragraphs explain where Mike found the image (as we have by now established that it was Mike who sent it to Richard, though I have yet to see Richard acknowledge that, but that’s not important at the moment). Mike does state, “the image currently posted by NASA on the Lunar and Planetary Institute website had obviously been altered to reduce the chances of anybody spotting the artifact if they downloaded the source image.”

Charging a scientific organization of deliberate tampering of any sort of data is a serious charge. It will be interesting to see Mike’s evidence for it.

Sixth Paragraph

“Now in terms of Mr. Robbins “analysis” of the images, I will simply say that it leaves a lot to be desired. Let me also state that I am no Photoshop expert, like he claims to be, and lack the artistic talent to create anything like Daedalus Ziggurat. I found the image, posted by someone else, period. I enhanced it as best I could and passed it on to Richard for his opinion.”

I could not find where I claimed to be a Photoshop expert. If Mike or anyone else can find it, please let me know. I did say that I’ve been using it for 20 years or so, but that doesn’t mean I’m an expert. It does mean I do generally know my way around image processing, and I am a semi-pro photographer (as in I don’t make a living on it, but I have sold several $thousand in photos to organizations like the BBC) — so again, I know my way generally around image processing.

I also never claimed that it was Hoagland nor Bara who created the initial image.

Seventh Paragraph – Original Image Sources

The seventh paragraph can be summarized as Mike conceding the point that he does not know the origins of the original image, nor the LPI (Lunar & Planetary Institute) scan. He states that both are JPGs and that “to do a proper analysis, anyone accusing Mr. Hoagland or myself of fraud would have to obtain a research quality original of AS11-38-5564 and do a high-resolution scan of it under controlled conditions.” Mike does not trust NASA (“based only on [Stuart’s] irrational bias towards NASA”) that the LPI is a representative scan.

I will actually concede this point, as well, if one wants to be truly 100% objective. I would state that most normal people would agree with me that the LPI scan represents the original image versus a small section showing a ziggurat that pops up on an internet forum. But, Mike’s thesis is that he can demonstrate the LPI scan is what has been altered, and that his represents the original more faithfully, so he needs to provide evidence for that as that is the extraordinary claim being made.

Similarly, again, I did not accuse Mike nor Richard of fraud. I stated that someone who made it and represented it as an original was making a fraudulent claim based upon the evidence I showed.

I will also state, for the record, that JPGs are “research-quality” very frequently in planetary science. Global mosaics we use of the Moon, Mars, Mercury, etc. are often distributed as JP2 (JPG-2000) file format, which admittedly is less lossy than a normal JPG. But that’s again a side-point.

At this stage, Mike has yet to answer my three main points.

Edited to Add (08/08/2012): As James Oberg mentioned in the comments, and I’ve heard Richard Hoagland claim many times, Mike and Richard supposedly have a set of near-original copies of all Apollo images. Why Mike then relied on an internet game forum post for the “original” or even on LPI is a mystery.

Eighth Paragraph – Noise

This was part of my three main points — the observation that Richard’s version had more noise in it than the LPI scan which is usually an indication of a later generation image, not one close to the original. It is also something that can be added in deliberately to try to make determination of image alteration more difficult. Again, I mention that as a possibility, I did not accuse anyone of that.

Anyway, Mike first makes the point that I “was working with Hoagland’s enhancement of my enhancement.” Very true. Mike, if you would like to send me the original, I’ll work from it. I now have the version from the 2008 “The Murky News” blog you linked to. It’s basically a lower-contrast version than the one Richard presented.

Then Mike has some mis-statements:

“The reason there is more noise in the original Ziggurat image “as1120pyramid20smallue2.jpg” is that it was probably scanned from an original and then cropped, enlarged, processed, and then prepared for publishing on the web. This is easy to see by the 72 DPI resolution, which is standard for images on the internet. This process will invariably make an image a bit noisier, but also easier to upload and download from. There is nothing nefarious or questionable about this. In fact, the “Save for Web” tool in Photoshop automatically changes the document resolution from say, 300 Dots Per Inch (the resolution of AS11-38-5564 on the LPI website image) to 72 DPI. This alone will induce noise at deep levels in the image, and contrary to Mr. Robbins assertion, is indicative of nothing except his desire to deceive his readers into thinking there’s something unusual about it. Jpeg’s are always noisy. It’s as simple as that.”

Okay, first sentence there, yes — if you enlarge something, you WILL introduce noise. I don’t know what the original image would have been that this person on this random forum posted his ziggurat from – and neither do you. Any enlargement is subject to speculation, it is not necessarily true nor false.

A 72 PPI (pixels per inch — dpi = dots per inch and is what printers do) image means nothing in terms of quality of an image nor whether it will have noise introduced. Say, for example, I have a “10-inch by 10-inch image at 300 PPI.” That means that it’s actually 3000 by 3000 pixels. I can make it a 72 PPI image without losing any information by simply making it 41.6667 by 41.6667 inches at 72 PPI.

Similarly, if you shrink an image (such as in the above example if I did make it 10″x10″ at 72 PPI so it’s only 720×720 pixels), then you necessarily REDUCE the noise. You lose a heck of a lot of detail, but by the definition of how image noise works, you will decrease the noise.

This is why, in astronomy, we often do not use detectors at native resolution even though “more pixels is better” is what is commonly thought — when we bin 2×2 or 3×3 or whatever, by combining the pixels, you reduce the noise by the square-root of the counts. The noise is inherently ±SQRT(counts). So, say Pixel A has a value (where “value” here is number of photons recorded) of 10(±3.2), B has 12(±3.5), C has 9(±3), D has 13(±3.6). Combining them (reducing the image size to 50%) gives you a value of 11 at that new pixel with a noise of only ±1.7 — reducing the noise by around 2x. (10+12+9+13 = 44, SQRT(44) ≈ 6.63 … then since we’re averaging 4 pixels together, divide by 4: 44/4 = 11, and 6.63/4 ≈ 1.7) The Google search for this is “Poisson counting statistics” or “Poisson statistics.”

As to “Jpeg’s are always noisy,” that is also a factually incorrect though usually technically correct, but as-stated it is misleading. The JPEG format standard, as defined, does permit lossless compression (so factually incorrect), though it is rarely implemented (so technically usually correct). But there are different levels of JPG compression. You can take a 1 MB TIFF image and save it as a 1 MB almost-lossless JPG. Or you can save it as a 100 KB highly lossy and very noisy JPG. I provide an example of this below (page down a bit).

When saving images, I almost always save as best-quality JPG, and that’s what many professional print shops request for printing. Rather than trying “to deceive [my] readers,” I was pointing out a fact: There is more noise in the Richard’s version than the LPI version.

Mike at this point has not adequately demonstrated that the noise level in his version with a ziggurat means it’s more original than the LPI version.

Edited to Add (08/08/2012): At the moment, Mike is wondering on his Facebook page whether he should respond to my critique in this post, and he also linked to an article he (I think) wrote on Richard’s website. Explaining why he is mistaken in that article is not the subject of this post, but there are a few things correct, including: “One of the acts of processing … involved “Downsizing”. What this does is reduce data present in the image. The ostensible reason for this is to “reduce some of the noise” … .” He also states, “The image is sized down by interpolation by a factor of two to reduce some of the noise.” So, yeah, Mike, you should read your own articles.

Eighth through Eleventh Paragraphs – Did I Add Noise?

Mike makes a statement: “What Mr. Robbins didn’t tell you is that a large chunk of the “noise” that appears in the image he “processed” was deliberately induced – by him.”

Obviously when I read that (and I’m writing this as I’m reading his blog, so I’ve not read ahead), I was intrigued. Apparently, Mike does not understand noise. He makes much ado about my stating that I reduced Richard’s image to 85.28% of his original. Which, again, by definition REDUCES the noise in an image. Instead, Mike claims, “In fact, anyone who knows anything about image enhancement knows that scaling/reducing an image induces more noise and reduces detail by design.” (emphasis his)

Yes, it will reduce some detail. That is true. But at 85.28%, it will not change the detail enough to say “oh look, there’s a pyramid there” versus “what happened to the pyramid?!” and it WILL REDUCE the noise by roughly 8ish%.

Mike continues: “Any competent image enhancement specialist would have enlarged the NASA image instead to bring it in line with the size of the original Ziggurat image. This upsampling process would have the effect of actually making the NASA image better, rather than making the original enhancement worse.” (emphasis his)

Again, this last sentence is factually incorrect. The first sentence can be quibbled about whether one should have scaled the LPI image up or Richard’s down, I chose to scale his down to give it the benefit of the doubt with noise. One can see in any of the “original” ziggurat images that Mike posted that the shadows of his have a significant amount of noise, and that detail has been lost over the majority of the image (look at small, lit craters in the original versus his).

But I’m sorry, Mike, your statement that upsampling makes an image better is factually and demonstrably false. You cannot get more information than was there originally. I would encourage anyone to do any teensy bit of research into this and you will find that I am correct on this matter and Mike is not. That whole thing about “zooming in” on CSI or Star Trek or whatever show where you can keep increasing the size ad infinitum is not possible in real life. I demonstrate this below, as well (scroll down a lot).

12th-14th Paragraphs

The next paragraph is where Mike accuses me of deliberately trying to deceive my readers/watchers ’cause apparently you all are too stupid to read up on this yourself. The next paragraph says that I made another huge mistake.

14th-15th Paragraphs – Histograms

This is a point that I will say right off the bat that Mike’s statements in the next two paragraphs are correct. I also figured that he might hone in on this point, so I was not unprepared.

It’s the next paragraph (the one that starts with “There, at the far left …”) where we again start to have some factual misstatements.

First, Mike claims, “In fact, color zero and the next few colors over (near absolute black) make up more than 33% of the entire image.” No. Actually, 0 makes up 7.40915% of the pixels in the image. This is understandable – and expected – with a sun that’s relatively low on the horizon – so you see a lot of deep shadows – and you have the blackness of space taking up a corner of your image. The next several shades – in fact, the darkest 10% (so 0-25 out of 255 colors) make up only 11.519755% of the pixels. Sorry, Mike, not 33%. (And to those wondering how I determined this, I took the image into graphing/data analysis software, made a simple histogram of the 1.521 million pixels, the histogram being in intervals of 1 from 0-255, and then I divided by the number of pixels. That gives you the % that each shade is in the whole image.)

Mike then states:

“What that means is that somebody put a lot of black and near black into the NASA image. Because in real life, almost nothing in any image is ever absolute black or white. So to find that (by far) the biggest number of pixels is absolute, perfect black is more than a little suspicious. On a properly processed image, the histogram should be pretty much a bell curve, bulging in the middle and then dropping off at both ends.”

Again, this is factually incorrect. I should know – I was processing several lunar images earlier today. In one that was taken when the sun was around 50° above the horizon, there was a small region of very bright crater ejecta. (South Ray crater, visited by the Apollo 16 astronauts.) The histogram is displayed with the image, below. As you can see, properly processed LINEARLY, this image has a very large amount of dark grey in order to fully capture the dynamic range of the bright ejecta. You can change this by stretching the shadows and compressing the highlights, which makes it a non-linear stretch, such as in the comparison (below).

M144524996R - Curves Example and Low Compression

M144524996R – Curves Example and Low Compression

M144524996R - Curves Example and High Compression

M144524996R – Curves Example and High Compression

I’ll state that this is only one example of a possible adjustment one could do to this image, but it also shows how, again, in any kind of manipulation you LOSE data. See that saw-tooth pattern in the blue in the histogram showing the adjusted image? That’s because when I increased the darker colors, mapping them to brighter colors, it left holes. There was no information there at those colors to begin with so it had no information to put there.

Think of it this way: You have colors ranging from 0 to 100. You want to increase the lower 25% to map them to the lower 50%. That means 0 stays 0, 1 becomes 2, 2 becomes 4, original 3 becomes 6, 4 becomes 8, etc. Notice: You’re missing, now, the shades of 1, 3, 5, 7, etc. Meanwhile, you’ve compressed the rest of the range (25%-100%) into just 50% of the range, so while you won’t get a saw-tooth effect, you’ll still have lost information. As in, the original 25, 26, and 27 will all be compressed into just 50 and 51. The original 28, 29, and 30 shade will now be mapped only into 52 and 53. Etc.

(Edited to Add (08/08/2012): Note — I am fully aware that many algorithms when doing this will interpolate and try to fill in those holes by examining surrounding pixels and trying to smooth things out. As I explained when increasing image size, this is an algorithmic estimate, and it canNOT ADD information to the image. In the example above, I chose an algorithm that does not interpolate to give you an understanding of the most basic idea of how this works.)

Or, let’s say you take a photo of, say, the Grand Canyon after sundown, and a waxing gibbous moon is over it. You might want to set your exposure to something fairly shortish so that the canyon only takes up the lower 1/3 of the brightness levels of the image, and then the moon is in the upper 5%. That’s a perfectly exposed photo and one that beautifully would detail the scene, but the histogram would in no way show the bell curve with the peak in the middle.

Apparently, Mike has an interesting notion of a “properly processed image.”

And, incidentally, I’m killing two birds with one stone here. The first image set above is a near-lossless JPG save (quality 12), while the bottom is a highly lossy one (quality 1). Obviously you can still see a lot of detail in the high-quality, and you see a lot of artifacts in the other.

Finally, as I’ve also mentioned, on the Moon, shadows are almost always very, very, very black. The odd situation would be the case where a pure shadow DOES display anything other than 0 black or very very close to it.

Next Few Paragraph Blocks – Proof?

Mike then states, “So what’s the most likely reason for this? I can think of only one. Somebody got this “official” NASA scan, took a paintbrush tool, set it to color zero, or absolute black, and went to town on it. And I can prove it.”

As I said, I will examine any evidence he provides.

The next several paragraphs are something that I expected, and I will say at the beginning here that I agree in principle with the fact that the NASA image appears to have clipped shadows and highlights. What I disagree with is Mike’s conclusion: “that can only mean one thing; they were painted over by someone at NASA with a black paintbrush tool.”

Why? A couple reasons. First, Mike says that the west wall shadow (see my original third point) – which is actually to the East because the image is flipped 180°(ish) relative to the lunar coordinate system – “casts a dark – but not completely black — shadow into the depression below.”

This is factually incorrect. Given the sun angle of the image, the “West” wall itself should not be casting any shadow, it’s the building for the wall should be in complete shadow. Again, see my original third point. It’s the wall of the crater that is casting the shadow into itself, as all crater walls do at any angle where the sun is low enough. The shadow length is the length of shadow we would expect from that crater in LPI’s version.

Second, we can go to ANY other spacecraft image of this site and see that the ziggurat is not there, that it is a crater, as expected from the LPI version. I’ll refer you again to the video I made where I show the wide-angle camera shot of the site and the narrow-angle camera shot of the site. Okay, for fun, here’s the WAC:

M118715682M - 300% Crop of "Ziggurat Area"

M118715682M – 300% Crop of “Ziggurat Area”

Note that I blew this up to 300%. Notice all that pixelation and how it appears kinda soft? That’s because, gee, when you increase the size of an image, you can’t increase detail, it does NOT make it more clear, despite what Mike claimed. But suffice to say, that “X” between several craters is where the ziggurat is supposed to be. That larger shadow at the top is the shadow cast by Mike’s alleged ziggurat. It’s a crater.

Mike then quotes from Adobe (the company that makes Photoshop) and, in the context of the rest of his blog, it seems as though Adobe is confirming his conspiracy.

As I stated at the beginning of this section, I will agree with Mike in principle that the original photo negative would likely have shown more of a range over a VERY few “pixels” as you go into those shadows, but the fact that the image from LPI shows pure black is definitely not proof of a conspiracy nor deliberate tampering. Very, very likely, the scanning software or whatever pipeline they had in place did an automatic clip — this is very, very common to clip the lower and upper 0.1%. It is not evidence of a conspiracy and, rather, is the default. One needs to present evidence against the null hypothesis (that being the LPI version is more original), and Mike has not done that.

Mike goes on with:

“Oh, I’m aware that the deceptive Mr. Robbins has tried to cover his ass by claiming that because of the lighting conditions on the Moon some areas are absolute black. But the fact is that, contrary to his fallacious claims that there are “no crater wall nor mountain to scatter light onto it,” there is a very bright, sunlit area just to left of the selection marquee that should be scattering plenty of light into the shadowed area, but isn’t.”

Mike, all you have to do is look anywhere in that – or ANY other similar image at ANY crater from this set – and you will see that the shadowed parts of the craters are not lit by scattered light from the highlighted wall. That is a factual statement of observation, and I challenge anyone to find fault with it*.

Moving on, Mike continues to mock my Photoshop skillz with his wiked kewel knowledge of the “Shadows/Highlights” tool. Impressive! (Yes, if you didn’t get the sarcasm, I know of this tool.) It shows nothing new that he didn’t demonstrate before — the black shadows in the LPI version are black with a few pixels right around the transition a wee bit shade of grey. Due to roughness of the lunar regolith, you will not get an exact point of transition, but it’s pretty close. As opposed to what Mike claims: “What this means is that Robbins [sic] assertion about there being “no light scattering” in the area is also proven wrong. Absolutely, completely wrong.”

No, Mike, it’s not scattering, it’s due to the roughness of the terrain. The actual shadowed part of the crater, as opposed to the few meters of transition due to rough terrain, IS in pure shadow.

So to wrap-up this section of the post, I can do it with a picture:

AS11-38-5564 Photo

AS11-38-5564 Photo, Shadows of Mike Bara’s

What I’ve done here is what Mike did with the LPI version, but with his shadowed area. What it shows is that the shadow is noisy. It should be a very, very narrow range of just a few shades of grey. Instead, it is a bell-curve (roughly) around a non-zero value that covers over 6% the greyscale range but about 9% the dynamic range the image actually uses. And is EXACTLY what you would expect from classic noise.

*Yes, there are a very few cases – in fact I found one today – where you can have very steep, fresh crater walls on the Moon and they will reflect SOME light into the shadowed region, but you have to overexpose the rest of the image to see it. I can provide the two examples that I know of if really necessary.


Mike starts his summary with:

“Which makes Mr. Robbins and his petty, venal lap dog “expat” flat, dead wrong. On all counts. But I won’t hold my breath waiting for an apology from the Confederacy of Dunces that are the “pseudoscience” attack crowd.

I’ll again state that the name-calling really shows who the petty person is in this discussion. “Expat” is not my lap dog, rather I met him on Phil Plait’s blog and invited him onto my podcast to interview about some other mistakes of Mike’s.

Mike summarizes with a few other points (all quotes, numbering mine):

  1. we may not know the exact origins of the original Daedalus Ziggurat
  2. we know with absolute certainty that the NASA version of AS-11-38-5564 has been deliberately faked to hide something from us
  3. they first tried to hide the Ziggurat by reducing the contrast to delete key visual clues
  4. they took out the airbrush tool, set it to absolute black, and started spraying away

1. I agree and have never claimed otherwise.

2. I disagree for reasons explained above. It is up to Bara to provide evidence that NASA faked something, and if Mike knew anything about normal image processing pipelines – some of which I’ve written – then he would know that everything he pointed out (mainly the shadows) has a much more common explanation. In cases like this, one must supply enough evidence to reject the null hypothesis, the null hypothesis being that the image is what was originally presented by NASA.

3. Mike must mean “increasing the contrast,” because reducing would give the result I showed you with South Ray crater. Regardless, see my explanation above for why this and …

4. … this are not adequately demonstrated.

Last Four Paragraphs

The next paragraph of Mike’s summary includes things such as, “the sky above has been backed out, obviously to hide evidence of the glass ruins.” The remainder is pretty much attacking me. I’ll reiterate that no where have I actually attacked Mike and Richard, and you can read my post discussing this kind of “hate.”

The next paragraph states:

“What I have proven here is that the chief critics of the Daedalus Ziggurat are not only wrong, they are foolishly and sloppily wrong. Either they didn’t want to study the images in the depth that I did before releasing it to Mr. Hoagland, or they simply lacked the intellectual capacity to do so. I lean towards the latter, but let’s face it, buffoons like Mr. Robbins and his expat are just haters who attack everything we do, no matter how many times we embarrass them. I doubt this will be the last time I choose to respond to these louts, but I certainly hope it’s now obvious they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Well, again, I think to any objective observer, Mike has not succeeded in proving his one main point. He also again falsely states that I’m a “hater.” And of course the further insults.

If we really want to heap on insults, Mike, I could bring up the fact that you don’t know what an ellipse is, you think an annular eclipse is when the moon is at its closest to Earth, that the sun exerts more pull on the Moon than Earth does (it’s less by around 10x — otherwise the Moon would orbit the Sun and not Earth), or other such things. Again, I’m not a “hater,” nor is my intent to attack you, but to show that you have made many factual misstatements.

Final Thoughts

At this point, I normally wrap-up my post with something pithy. To be honest, this response took about two hours plus an hour for editing and I’m out of pithy things. I’ll reiterate, though, the crux of my argument and what you need to answer to show that the structure is real:

  1. Why there is less noise in the NASA original but more noise in Mike’s, and why is there more contrast (more pure black and more saturated highlights) in Mike’s? Both of these pretty much always indicate that the one with more noise and more contrast is a later generation … you can’t just Photoshop in more detail like that.
  2. Why other images of the same place taken by several different craft (including non-NASA ones), including images at almost 100x the original resolution of the Apollo photo, don’t show the feature.
  3. Why the shadowed parts of his ziggurat are lit up when they’re in shadow, on top of a hill, and not facing anything that should reflect light at them?

1. Mike did not satisfactorily answer the first point, making several factual errors about noise in images. I conceded the point about contrast more because I’m tired, though I still will maintain that based on the shadows in the lower left (below the crater), the original shows more of a dynamic range than the version Mike has.

2. This was not addressed in Mike’s post, ergo this point stands unchallenged.

3. This was indirectly addressed by Mike saying that the crater wall would scatter light onto the “West wall” of the ziggurat, but his geometry is not correct for his interpretation to be valid, as I explained in the post. It definitely should not be as bright and obvious as it is, brighter even than a lot of the darker terrain.

So to conclude, my original analysis stands and I think I have refuted Mike’s points as he laid them out in his blog. I have also done so without resorting to any name-calling nor mocking (okay, maybe a teensy bit of mocking, especially in the last paragraph of the previous section).

Oh, and again, that’s Dr. Robbins.

August 6, 2012

Mike Bara “to utterly and completly destroy you and your insipid “analysis”” Tonight?


For background, first please see download and watch this video. Or go to that page for the transcript. Or go to YouTube and watch a shorter, earlier version of it. Or read my initial blog post on the subject.

Earlier Today …

Seems like I may have hit a nerve, considering that this post on Mike’s Facebook page is addressed to “Dear douchebags.” But he addresses that to those “who have been attacking my integrity,” which I have not done in this particular instance. Nor did I “claim… that [Mike] (or Richard C. Hoagland) faked the Daedalus Ziggurat photo.” I stated that someone did, and that Richard was clearly taken in by the hoax.

But apparently, later tonight, Mike is “going to utterly and completly destroy you and your insipid ‘analysis.’ I am going to prove that NASA are the ones that have faked their image. I am going to expose you as the idiots you are.”

I’ll watch his blog for details.

What Mike Must Show

To be clear, I did not address my video at Mike Bara. I addressed it towards the claims (not the person) made by Richard Hoagland about a photograph. But the photo came from Mike (Richard did not give him credit), and even though Mike “found it somewhere on the internet” he is convinced it is genuine and that NASA is faking their “new” version.

If Mike is going to refute my analysis, this is what he must satisfactorily explain:

  1. Why there is less noise in the NASA original but more noise in Mike’s, and why is there more contrast (more pure black and more saturated highlights) in Mike’s? Both of these pretty much always indicate that the one with more noise and more contrast is a later generation … you can’t just Photoshop in more detail like that.
  2. Why other images of the same place taken by several different craft (including non-NASA ones), including images at almost 100x the original resolution of the Apollo photo, don’t show the feature.
  3. Why the shadowed parts of his ziggurat are lit up when they’re in shadow, on top of a hill, and not facing anything that should reflect light at them?

I’m posting these criteria in advance of seeing his refutation so I can’t be accused of retrodicting anything, though these points are laid out fairly clearly in the video I created.

Temporary Final Thoughts

If Mike can explain those, I will post a statement as such and I will undergo a re-analysis. Those are the main reasons why I doubt its authenticity, and they are the main indicators for something that has been faked, and so I’d like to see what Mike will say to expose me as an idiot and show the NASA original is the one that’s been faked (and all the other photos of the site).

I will almost certainly do a follow-up post when Mike posts his blog on it, which is supposed to be around 10PM PDT, around 3ish hours from now.

Already, I can say that paranoia – as is common with conspiracy theorists – has set in. About four hours after that Facebook post, which got his fans rooting for him (“We’re ALL behind you Mike”), he posted a link to the LPI version of that image, telling his legions of Facebook friends to “please go to this link and download this image before NASA has a chance to replace it. Please save it in a safe place.” ‘Cause, you know, once he posts his analysis, NASA’s going to go in and add more cover-up. Meanwhile, most of the 44 commenters who have said they’ve downloaded the image say they don’t see anything anomalous. Likely not what Mike was hoping for.

But as I said, we’ll see what happens. And Mike, if you’re reading this, I really don’t hate you. And name-calling is really childish. Your arguments should be able to stand up on your own, they shouldn’t rely upon you starting out by calling your opponent a “douchebag,” “moron,” “idiot,” or some such other insult.

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.