Exposing PseudoAstronomy

May 16, 2012

Podcast Episode 35 – Apollo Hoax Photos, Part 2

Slightly late, episode 35 has been posted. I go over four photography claims dealing with crosshairs and shadows.

I’m also considering experimenting with making this episode (and potentially some other visual ones) into YouTube-type videos. Let me know what you think.

Oh, and this episode introduces a new segment — new news related to previous episodes.


December 22, 2011

On the Subject of Absolute Denial


Lately, I’ve had a somewhat morbid fascination with the news feed over at Conservapedia where they post the most absolute conservative and Christian fundamentalist stories along with often laughable commentary. For example, we have, “Thousands of Christians, fed up with persecution at the hands of atheists, rally in Texas in a fight to save their Nativity scene.” Or:

Additional Climategate fraud exposed: U.S. Gov’t money helped fund a deliberate hiding of data: “Now a new batch posted in late November to a Russian server shows that scientists at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit refused to share their U.S. government-funded data with anyone they thought would disagree with them.” Not even replication is allowed, a basic tenet of science. And our critics say we’re anti-science!

At least a third of the time (at least it seems), their articles are direct links to Creation Ministries International (CMI) articles. Following their CMI bent, Conservapedia is a big supporter of the CMI’s “Question evolution!” campaign, often filling their news feed with notes that a new Question evolution! campaign was launched somewhere.

What brought me to write this hopefully short post is Conservapedia’s commentary with their latest update on said campaign: “How did life originate? Evolutionists and atheists don’t have any answers. Creation Ministries International unveils their second Question evolution! campaign video which no evolutionist/atheist is going to be able to rebut.”

Question evolution!

RationalWiki’s page on “Question evolution!”

That’s what mostly needs to be said, but to summarize, CMI came up with 15 questions that “evolutionists” supposedly can’t answer and where each of them disprove “Darwinism” with absolute certainty.

One problem with this is that several of their 15 questions have nothing to do with evolution, such as, say … Question 1, “How did life originate.” Sorry CMI, but origin of life studies has nothing to do with the change in the frequency of alleles in cells. Other of the questions are philosophical and have nothing to do with science, like Question 6, “Why do living things bear the hallmarks of design, [sic] if no one designed them?” (you’ll also notice they improperly use commas).

A second problem is that this sets up a false dichotomy with a god of the gaps on one end where CMI obviously wants you to think that because scientists supposedly can’t answer these questions, Goddidit.

The final “problem” is that the questions pertaining to evolution are answerable and have been answered many, many times. RationalWiki does a good job on that page I linked to.

The Point of This Post: Denial

It admittedly is difficult for me to imagine, with full knowledge of my own argument from personal incredulity, that the editors over at Conservapedia are ignorant of the responses by scientists to this campaign. After all, CMI did their own three-part series on it. Perhaps this is why Conservapedia often inserts the word, “satisfactorily” into their statement that these are questions “evolutionists cannot satisfactorily answer.” But that’s my own musing.

It is thus that I wanted to muse further about the idea of denial. Often in skepticism, we naïvely expect propagators of woo to play by the rules of logic, evidence, and acknowledgement of statements and full responses to them. We quickly learn that most don’t play by that game. The response is often moving the goalpost (conspiracy theorists often do this) or a Gish Gallop (named for the creationist who did this and often encountered with conspiracies as well as creationists).

It is in this spirit that I point out that Conservapedia is simply denying that scientists have answered their questions, they just don’t like the answers. I submit that people such as Andrew Schlafly (the founder and primary editor of Conservapedia) will never consider any response to these kinds of things “sufficient” for their purposes. Almost by definition, this is where we enter the realm of the “True Believer.”

Final Thoughts

In science, in contrast (and I know I’ve addressed this many times), the ideal is to never hold our own personal beliefs above the evidence for them and especially against them.

If someone were to present demonstrable evidence that Planet X were nearby and there was actually some mechanism for it to cause a pole flip in a year yesterday, I’d look at it and take it seriously. But a Planet X that’s 365 days away (2012 is a leap year, after all … oooo! scary!) would almost be the brightest object in our sky. Last time I looked up, I didn’t see it.

Similarly, if someone were able to present demonstrable evidence that pans out for, say, the Moon Hoax conspiracy, then that would be something. But I would expect that if I looked into that person’s claim and presented my findings to them, that that person would then look at my evidence and analysis and respond to it. That has never been the case so far (at least for me), all they do is not respond or move onto another claim.

So really, this is a guide to those who believe something that’s not generally accepted: If you lay out a specific claim, present specific evidence for it. If someone takes the time to look into that evidence and addresses your claim, have the courtesy to “play by the rules” and actually examine what they show you, and then respond to it. If the person shows that your evidence is flawed, acknowledge that. Don’t change the subject. Don’t say, “Oh, well I can’t give you anymore evidence because the men in black took it.” If you do, a rational person is not going to believe you because the only evidence you had was shown to be flawed.

And at that point, don’t turn around to the next person and completely ignore what had just happened (e.g., Bart Sibrel, I’m lookin’ at you). Don’t claim that your flawed evidence that you acknowledged was flawed (assuming we got that far) is valid again to the next person you talk to.

November 16, 2011

Podcast Episode 11: Dust and Rock Claims of the Apollo Moon Hoax

It seems like I just put out an episode. Which I did. Here’s the second regular episode for the month, another one on the Apollo moon hoax/conspiracy. I’m trying to go through the claims that don’t rely on a bunch of photographic evidence because, obviously, that’s difficult to do during a podcast.

So I picked about a half dozen claims related to the specific category of claims of dust and rock, and I discussed two rock-related independent ways to show that we actually did land and bring back astronauts.

It’s also a bit long, almost 40 minutes. Enjoy.

July 17, 2009

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


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

All posts in this series:

The Claims

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

Bart Sibrel's "Disappearing Crosshair"

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

What Are the Crosshairs?

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

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

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

Why Do They Appear Behind Objects?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bart Sibrel's "Disappearing Crosshair"

Why Are the Crosshairs Rotated, and Not Centered?

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

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

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

Apollo Photograph AS11-40-5868

Apollo Photograph AS11-40-5868

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

So let’s rotate it, and then crop it:

Apollo Photograph AS11-40-5868 After Rotating and Cropping

Apollo Photograph AS11-40-5868 After Rotating and Cropping

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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


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

All posts in this series:

The Photos

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

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

Apollo 11 Landing Site

Apollo 15 Landing Site

Apollo 16 Landing Site

Apollo 17 Landing Site

Apollo 14 Landing Site

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

Final Thoughts – The Likely Hoax Response

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

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

July 16, 2009

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


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

All posts in this series:

The Claim

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

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

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

What Makes a Footprint or Impression Hold its Shape?

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

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

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

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

Digression – Disingenuine Nature of Bart Sibrel’s Arguments

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

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

Caller: If you take flour —

Sibrel: Flour has moisture in it.

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

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

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

Sibrel: Like what? Give me an example.

Caller: You can take fine rock dust —

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

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

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

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

What’s the Lunar Regolith Like?

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

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

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

Why Does the Lunar Surface “Look Wet?”

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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