Exposing PseudoAstronomy

January 8, 2013

Podcast #60: The Face on Mars, Part 2

Face on Mars - from Mars Global Surveyor

Face on Mars – from Mars Global Surveyor

This episode is the second of two about the Face on Mars. In this second episode, I start out with a discussion revisiting the basic idea of pareidolia and why this feature is best explained by that psychological phenomenon. I then get into Mark Carlotto’s image analysis, other faces, and finally spend quite a bit of time on various conspiracies surrounding it.

I also have a very brief New News segment and a short carry-over puzzler. The next episode is going to be about whether or not claiming that “asteroids did it” is special pleading for explaining various anomalies in the solar system. If you have ideas for a puzzler, please let me know (e-mail) BEFORE Friday the 11th — I have to record the episode on Saturday because of travel.


January 1, 2013

Podcast #59: The Face on Mars, Part 1

Face on Mars - from Mars Global Surveyor

Face on Mars – from Mars Global Surveyor

This episode is the first of two about the Face on Mars. In this first episode, I discuss a lot of the history of imaging the Face, the context of it and its location on Mars, and many of the claims related to the imaging of it. Get ready for some Coast to Coast clips — there are eight of them. This episode goes into significantly more detail than my post four years ago on the subject.

Part 2 will be about some of the more conspiratorial and related claims along with a few other faces thrown in. This episode as it was was already 40 minutes long, so I decided to split into two parts.

I also have a very brief New News segment, a short puzzler, and two announcements.

December 26, 2011

New Interview of Me on “Point of Inquiry” Podcast

Quick post to let you know that Karen Stollznow interviewed me for the December 26th episode – last of 2011 – of Point of Inquiry podcast. The subject matter was a summary of the 2012 phenomenon and associated phenomena, and it was appropriately titled, “The End of the World as We Know It.” It’s very, very roughly a 42.62-minute podcast, about the length of my own (so less detail on each subject). Enjoy!

And for reference, I figure it’s time to update my list of 2012 posts so far:

I have also written a few posts that are tangentially related to the 2012 subject:

And my podcast episodes so far on 2012:

November 6, 2010

Planet X and 2012: My Posts So Far


In roughly 19 hours, I will be interviewed on the radio program “Amerika Now.” It is a four-hour (~2 hr 45 min without commercials) radio program broadcast from Fort Collins, Colorado, and I will be “live” in-studio. It will be from 10:00 PM through 2:00 AM Saturday into Sunday evening/morning Eastern Daylight Time for the US (8:00 PM Saturday – 12:00 AM MDT, my local time). It is a call-in program (1-800-259-5791). One can listen to it live on the radio, streamed over the internet, or you can download individual hours of it from this page after it has been aired (I don’t know how soon, though it shouldn’t be more than a day or two).

Interview Topic

The episode is going to focus on the “popular” 2012 phenomenon. As such, I thought it was high time I did another listing of all relevant 2012 posts I have made on this blog:

I have also written a few posts that are tangentially related to the 2012 subject:

I will likely be referring to these during the program. For example, I may, after describing what the sky looks like on December 21, 2012, and that there’s no galactic center alignment, say, “And if you go to my blog, linked from this show’s website, you can go to my post “Planet X and 2012: What The Sky Looks Like On December 21, 2012,” and click on the image and see a star chart of what it looks like rather than going off my verbal description.” Hopefully I’ll be that cogent when actually on the air in the late evening hours (he says, writing this at 1 AM).

Full Disclosure

No, I’m not talking about the government “coming clean on UFOs.” I want to put this in writing, up front, for anyone who may ask, imply, infer, or conspiracize:

1. I am technically a government employee because (a) I am a graduate student on a stipend at a state school in the U.S. that receives state and federal money, and (b) the grant from which I draw salary is funded by NASA. However, I am further removed from being “in” the government than a person behind the counter at the post office. The only thing I have been told I am not allowed to talk about is space mission specifics to foreigners. Since I do not work on any missions, that does not apply to me in any way. I’m about as much a government employee as a bus driver (if the bus company is not privately owned).

2. I do not claim in any way to represent the University of Colorado, the Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences department, nor the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. No, I was not told I had to say this, I’m just saying it because I find it humorous when other people do and wanted the opportunity to say it myself.

3. There is no spot on my tax form for “secret government hush money.” If I were being paid to “keep quiet,” I would live in a nicer apartment and drive a better car. And my car would have less dings in it. And I would have a nicer couch rather than a decades-old one I inherited from another grad student. And I would’ve bought Honey Maid graham crackers at the grocery store on Monday instead of Kroger (store) brand.

4. I am not trying to sell anything. I have no books out, no e-books out, no websites with advertisements that give me money, and no movies/films/etc. If you want to be very peripheral, I am trying to excite and keep public interest in astronomy because – let’s face it – astronomy research is mostly paid with federal money which is subject to you, the voters.

5. My goal in doing this is solely to help promote the public understanding of science with a hope that it may also assuage some fear related to 2012: How science works, how science is done, and specifically how it is not done. Depending upon the questions during the program, I may or may not be directly talking about this subject, and I may or may not also address the limitations of science (some 2012 beliefs are purely metaphysical and cannot possibly be addressed by the methodologies of science — and this has always been my position).

Final Thoughts

The radio show is described as: “Amerika Now’s refreshing and provocative discussions take both a serious and ‘tongue-in-cheek’ look at the headlines of the day as well as regularly featuring top-name guests in the fields of politics and political cover-ups, spirituality and philosophy, economics, science and global environmental issues, the paranormal, and other topics of keen interest to the listeners.”

From the episodes I have listened to, it seems much like a smaller version of Coast to Coast AM, for the topics generally trend towards paranormal, spiritual / intention, alt med, and sometimes conspiracy theories. The hosts are friendly towards these topics.

I expect that the interview will be interesting, and I think it will be a learning experience for all involved (I’m including myself in that!). I have never done an interview for – for lack of a better short, encompassing term – a “pro-alternative” program. My lectures and shows in the past have always been for the general public or skeptics groups, and my interviews other than newspapers have been for skeptical podcasts or radio shows (I have those as plural, but I’ve only been interviewed for one podcast and one radio show, though multiple episodes of each … though I should be in a video podcast episode that’s due out in a month or so).

I hope the program goes well and is interesting. I encourage you to listen to it … at least at the moment. That may change afterwards (I always have a hard time listening to myself do an interview). 🙂

November 5, 2009

Pareidolia and Pixellation … Or, Why Blowing Up Photographs Beyond 100% Resolution Is Bad


Pareidolia: (noun) /pærɪˈdoʊliə/ — The tendency to interpret a vague stimulus as something known to the viewer; such as interpreting marks on Mars as canals or seeing shapes in clouds. From the Greek para- (“beside,” “with,” or “alongside”—meaning, in this context, something faulty or wrong (as in paraphasia, disordered speech)) and eidolon (“image”; the diminutive of eidos (“image,” “form,” “shape”)).

Pareidolia is something that I addressed in my “Pareidolia – The Face on Mars” post in January 2009. In this post, however, I’ll be addressing a different twist on pareidolia that has a different genesis given the modern age of computers, where everyone with an internet connection can be an armchair geologist.

In this particular case study, I will not be talking about Richard Hoagland and his glass cities on the moon and Mars, but rather a more obscure person, Andrew Basiago, of his self-made “Mars Anomaly Research Society.” In 2008, he put out a “research paper” entitled, “THE DISCOVERY OF LIFE ON MARS,” with the first sentence of the abstract being five simple words, “There is life on Mars.”

His evidence? Read further to find out …

What Does Basiago Say He Found, in General?

Basiago is a lawyer and self-described “amateur scientist.” In late 2008, he made headlines by complaining that National Geographic was refusing to publish his work. The following quote is from his press release:

“I was astonished by what I found,” he said. “There, on the Red Planet, were beings in blue bodysuits and the abstract artwork of a Martian civilization. I was looking at the first evidence of life beyond Earth!”

In his letter to the National Geographic Society, the lawyer writes that careful evaluation of PIA10214 reveals “a cosmic treasure trove of pictographic evidence of life on Mars, including humanoid beings, animal species, carved statues, and built structures.”

According to Basiago, the humanoid beings photographed in PIA10214 have bulbous heads and elongated bodies, like the extraterrestrials described in alien contact accounts. Some have two arms and legs like human beings, while others have multiple appendages and segmented or larval bodies, as if they are human-insect hybrids.

Here are two news stories about it (link 1, link 2).

The original image in question can be found here.

A Famous Photo

This photograph, or panorama of photographs, from Mars was taken by the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) “Spirit” during the last few months of 2007. It is within the Gusev Crater on Mars on the plateau that NASA has named, “Home Plate.” What makes this photograph interesting is that it itself caught the news cycle due to a fairly “obvious” piece of pareidolia, the “Big Foot” on Mars.

If you download the full version of the panorama from NASA, the “Big Foot” is located about 30″ down, 12″ over (2150 px down, 850 px over to the right). Below is a FULL-RESOLUTION version of just that section. Note that the figure itself is about 37 px tall and 18 px wide. At full resolution. And, it really does look like a person sitting with a hand resting on one knee.

NASA Image PIA10214 with a Close-Up of "Big Foot"

However, with MER Spirit having photographed well over a million rocks on the planet, some are bound to look like something that we’re familiar with. Just like the cloud I saw today looked a lot like Mr. Spock.

While the image of “Big Foot” on Mars garnered some press on its own and made the rounds on Coast to Coast AM, it quickly came out that the rock in question was just a few inches tall and it fairly quickly dropped from the public consciousness.

Expanding Beyond 100% Size

The etymology of the word “pixel” dates back to the 1960s, when it became an abbreviation for “picture element.” In other words, the smallest part of a picture. The smallest “piece” of information that was recorded. A pixel cannot be subdivided into more than one pixel to yield more data because it simply does not exist in the image.

And yet, graphics programs have no problem expanding an image beyond that 100% scale, to make 1 pixel into 2, 3, 4, or more. Software does this through a variety of algorithms, and it may really look like it has smoothly added information to the image, but it has not. It has also introduced artifacts through the expansion process that were not previously there. If, for example, you expand a photograph to 250% its original size, and then you shrink it back to the original 100%, you will not have the same photograph you started with, and you will have lost a little bit of information.

This basic concept is not something that Basiago seems to understand. He took NASA photograph PIA10214 and blew up various parts of it, stretching objects that may have originally been only 5 pixels tall and 7 pixels wide into something 50x that size. In other cases, he has stretched the aspect ratio, making the image much wider or taller than it should be if given a simple expansion.

Let’s look at two examples. In the example below, Basiago describes as: “These and other animals on Mars defy classification by any known system on Earth. We would include among the new forms of fauna on Mars the animal whose giraffe-like head can be seen peering from behind the cliff literally within feet of Spirit. This animal has red lips, a patch of blue beneath its bulging eyes, and a crest atop its head like some dinosaurs. Even the most spirited disinformation that this report will inspire will have difficulty finding a mundane, non-biological explanation for The Spying Giraffe.”

Basiago Pareidolia Example 1

Basiago Pareidolia Example 1

In this second example below, Basiago describes: “Maybe the creatures seen – including both living plesiosaurs (left) and dead ones (right) – are plesiosaurs that survived on Mars the extinction that befell plesiosaurs on Earth.”

Basiago Pareidolia Example 2

Basiago Pareidolia Example 2

I’ve been kind with these examples. In the many, many photographic blow-ups that he includes in his paper, these are among the best few that actually sorta kinda look like what he claims. However, any normal reader with pretty much any amount of common sense can tell that these are simply rocks. Or, at the very least, one would need higher-resolution photographs to really tell anything, as opposed to just blowing up a low-resolution image (e.g., the far-right one in the first example).

Final Thoughts

What automatically enters my mind when someone claims they see something anomalous in a photograph, or that they see “data’s head” on the moon or subway systems on Mars, I first think “pareidolia,” and my second thought is, “what’s the resolution?” In other words, is the object they’re describing actually fully resolved, or are they stretching the pixels to bring out something that’s not really there? As was the case in the examples of “amateur scientist” Andrew Basiago, both of these were at play, and what he was really looking at was simply a bunch of rocks.

November 3, 2009

Planet X and 2012: Why Gilbert Eriksen’s “Wormwood” Won’t Be Showing Up


It’s been awhile since I’ve posted more “research”-type information on the whole 2012 and Planet X nonsense that abounds upon the internet. I was looking through my notes and came across some notes I made while listening to the June 29, 2009, episode of Coast to Coast AM that had an interview with Gilbert Eriksen.

Eriksen is big on Biblical prophecy (given the name he uses for Planet X, “Wormwood,” you could probably guess that). I will not be addressing his links to the Bible in this blog post as that is for someone else to do and is not the subject of this blog, nor is it my area of expertise. Rather, I will focus on the astronomy/geology/physics that he brought up in his interview on the radio show. If for some reason you are more interested in his work, you can visit his website, The Millennium Prophecy.

All posts in this series:

Eriksen’s Sense of Wormwood / Planet X

Eriksen claims several specific things about this object. First off is its orbit. During the second hour of the program, about 11 minutes in, he claims, “[The solstice] line is the line that Wormwood comes in on, arcs up over the sun, and goes back out on. It follows the solstice line produced.” About 12 minutes in, we also have, “Its transit time is about 1800 years … outbound … [so a round-trip of ~3600 years].”

Another area of interest for any astronomical body is its mass, which Eriksen says about 12 minutes into that second hour is “about 60 times Jupiter’s mass, it is about 1/17th of a solar mass.”

What about its diameter? “From the best that we can tell …, military sources, they think that it’s the size of Saturn, possibly as large as Jupiter.” (~12 min. in)

And what about the composition of this giant object? “[I]nstead of being a gas, it’s an iron-oxide [rust] ball – just a big giant iron ball. And it’s really heavy.” (~12 min. in)

But, this conflicts with what kind of object he claims it is: “Wormwood is a brown dwarf star, it is the sun’s binary companion.” (~12 min. in)

And, from what I can tell of his diagrams, he thinks that it is right now within the orbit of Jupiter.

Problems with this Basic Data

Let’s forego the very basic fact that if an object the size of Saturn or Jupiter were within the orbit of Jupiter that everyone on Earth would know about it. I’ve addressed this elsewhere. To be fair, though, he does claim that an amateur astronomer “can probably find it [Woormwood] now.” And it will be visible to any southern hemisphere observer. Of course, none have found it, which to any honest researcher would be a big clue that they should re-examine their hypothesis.

Let’s also forego the idea that an object with a 3600-year orbit in our solar system can’t work, either, as I’ve also already addressed that claim.

Rather, let’s look at his description of the object – a brown dwarf star, but also an object made of solid iron – and the size and mass.

Let’s get the math over with first. The density of pure water at room temperature at sea level on Earth is 1 gm/cm3 (this is by definition). The density of Jupiter is 1.33 times this. So it would sink. The density of Saturn is 0.69 times this, so it would float. Earth’s bulk average density of 5.52 gm/cm3.

Eriksen claims that his object is 60 times the mass of Jupiter. But its volume is somewhere between Saturn’s and Jupiter’s. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt in this calculation and say that it’s the volume of Jupiter. That would mean that the density of the object is 60×1.33 = 80. That’s right, 80 times the density of water. And yet, the density of iron is 7.85 times the density of water.

For comparison, the average density of the sun is 1.41 times that of water. Though, to be fair, the core is about 150-160x (depending upon what model you trust). But still, having such a high average density is an untenable situation. for an object with the features he claims.

Eriksen’s Claims of Activity

Besides the basic parameters of this object, part of the crux of his argument is that this Wormwood has active surface geology: “It’s probably volcanic. It throws massive amounts of iron oxide dust out, which are distributed through the inner node rings.” (~12 min. in)

And then we get to the real pseudo-science (as opposed to fake pseudo-science … or as opposed to what he claimed before) about 16 minutes into the second hour of the program:

What causes the grief is …this thing will spin, too. … This object has a very powerful baryonic field – you know, it has a lot of mass – and you spin it, it develops a node ring or ‘distortion field’ like a series of concentric hula hoops. These concentric hula hoops are then reflected back from the dark matter / dark energy of space (the dark soup, you know), and what you end up with are these concentric rings. Where those rings are around the sun, that’s where the planets orbit. Where the rings are around the Earth, that’s where the moons are. The same thing for Jupiter, Saturn. … If you take a planet like Saturn and really rev it up fast … then the thing will not only generate node rings for moons, but rings for ice and junk and all sorts of stuff. And the Cassini space craft got some excellent pictures. … Each one of the rings are spinning at a different speed with the fastest ones on the inside and the slowest ones on the outside. So spinning bodies generate these gravitational distortions. … And that’s where the asteroids and the space junk orbits Woormwood.


Let’s attempt to dissect what Eriksen is claiming in that long quote. He’s basically saying, (1) Objects that have mass and that spin will generate “concentric nodal gravitational rings;” (2) it’s on the sun’s rings that planets orbit, on the planets’ rings that moons orbit, etc.; (3) these rings are also duplicated and made more complicated via reflections off of dark matter and dark energy; and (4) it’s on these rings that space junk orbits and will cause destruction on Earth.

Let’s address the foundational claim, that of the very existence of these concentric rings. Now, I took 14 physics classes in my undergraduate career, and I took 10 astronomy classes. I don’t happen to remember any mention of such a thing as gravitational nodal rings. But, I did a quick Google search just to see if my memory was failing at my ripe young age of 20-something. A Google search of “gravitational nodal rings” turns up only references to 2012, Planet X, Wormwood, or the like. Now, I don’t mean to dismiss this out of hand on that evidence, I suppose it’s possible that such a thing exists (perhaps they are thinking of gravitational waves that are thrown off by very massive objects like colliding neutron stars or spinning black holes?). But, the fact that the only people who are talking about them on the whole of the internet are Planet Xers should tell you something.

So then why (2) do the planets and moons orbit where they do? Because it’s where they happened to have formed or evolved into a resonance with another object. For example, three of the four main moons of Jupiter – Io, Europa, and Ganymede – orbit in a 4:2:1 resonance meaning that for one full orbit of Ganymede around Jupiter, Europa orbits twice, and Io orbits four times. The system probably didn’t form that way, in fact there’s evidence that Ganymede didn’t make it into that resonance until about 1-2 billion years ago, but it has nothing to do with gravitational nodes or rings.

As for (3), Eriksen is throwing out scientific-sounding terms when he has no idea what he’s talking about. Dark energy has to do with the expansion of the universe and is not something tangible that something can reflect off. Dark matter is non-baryonic material (you are made up of baryonic material) that we can only detect via its gravitational effects … again, not something that a mystical gravitational node ring could reflect off.

Since I’ve effectively explained why 1-3 are ridiculous, I really think we can eliminate (4) as there’s no longer anything to base it off.

What Destruction Does Eriksen Claim?

Like any good doomsday-sayer, Gilbert Eriksen of course makes specific claims of how this is going to destroy Earth. He has 6 specific claims that he makes during the second hour of the radio show, between about 18 minutes and 25 minutes. The first is taken as a quote from the radio show, while 2-6 are quotes from his website:

  1. “Number 1, a great earthquake. this is where the node rings of Woormwood take ahold of the Earth and just shake the livin’ liver out of it. … I think the first [earthquake] was the [December 25/26, 2004] tsunami, and that grabbed ahold of the plates down there.”
  2. “We get volcanic activity at tectonic plate edges … rims of fire that eject high tonnages of ash plume into the upper atmosphere that block out the sun light over large areas of the earth.”
  3. “Wormwood throws large tonnages of iron oxide dust and debris between the Earth and the moon or into Earth’s atmosphere. When we look through the veil of iron oxide dust, the moon takes on a blood red color.”
  4. “Wormwood throws asteroids and various forms of space junk into Earth’s atmosphere that impact on the surface as meteorites. Expect some severe tsunami events if there are impact pieces landing in the ocean that are of significant size.”
  5. “At least one of the volcanic eruptions will be a large pyroclastic explosion … a volcanic cone that will “blow its top” like Mt. St Helens in May, 1980. The blast concussion feels like the sky is ‘splitting apart’ anywhere within sound range of the cone. The curling action of the mushroom cloud when viewed from below looks like a scroll when it is allowed to spring back into the rolled up position.”
  6. “Tectonic shifting from the Wormwood node ring earthquake will shift the mountains and islands into different places. Displacements may be measured in tens or hundreds of feet of difference but the shifts will be measureable [sic] with modern surveying equipment. Again, with major earthquake activity and island movements expect severe tsunami events to follow for various coastal cities.”

For good measure, at 29 minutes into the program, he also states, “It can reach right through the Earth … and pull a continent down under the waves on one side of the Earth and pull a continent up out of the waves on the other side of the Earth and do it in 20 minutes. Does Atlantis ring a bell? What about Lemuria? There’s a very good chance you’ll see Atlantis rising in 2012 – that’s Woormwood talking.”

Are We Going to See This Destruction?

In a word, “no.” First, #1, 2, 4, and 5 are very general claims. Earthquakes happen. Space junk falls to Earth and we see meteorites landing on a daily basis. And volcanos also blow their tops. It just happens.

#3 won’t happen because in the previous section I explained his entire mechanism is fallacious, which then also applies to why #6 will not happen. As for Atlantis? I’ve addressed Atlantis before, too.

Final Thoughts

Gilbert Eriksen is another doomsday proponent with a Biblical twist that has a book to sell for $16.95, people to scare, but nothing to back him up except a lot of misunderstood terms at best and outright deceit at worst. He has no training in relevant physics, astronomy, nor geology fields, but rather is a “psychologist, linguist, and former helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War.”

What’s strange about him is that he makes specific predictions that are demonstrably false, some now (such as the visibility of this object), and some in the very near future (claiming, for example at 15 minutes into the interview, that in “May/June/July [of 2010] … it’s gonna get close enough to exchange atmospheric gases with the Earth”).

July 18, 2009

The Apollo Moon Hoax: Two Interviews (of Me)

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

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

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

All posts in this series:

July 17, 2009

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


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

All posts in this series:

The Claims

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

Bart Sibrel's "Disappearing Crosshair"

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

What Are the Crosshairs?

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

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

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

Why Do They Appear Behind Objects?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bart Sibrel's "Disappearing Crosshair"

Why Are the Crosshairs Rotated, and Not Centered?

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

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

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

Apollo Photograph AS11-40-5868

Apollo Photograph AS11-40-5868

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

So let’s rotate it, and then crop it:

Apollo Photograph AS11-40-5868 After Rotating and Cropping

Apollo Photograph AS11-40-5868 After Rotating and Cropping

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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


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

All posts in this series:

The Photos

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

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

Apollo 11 Landing Site

Apollo 15 Landing Site

Apollo 16 Landing Site

Apollo 17 Landing Site

Apollo 14 Landing Site

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

Final Thoughts – The Likely Hoax Response

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

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

July 16, 2009

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


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

All posts in this series:

The Claim

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

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

Is This True?

In a word: No.

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

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

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

Bad Apollo Photograph - AS12-47-7010

Bad Apollo Photograph - AS12-47-7010

Why the Claim?

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.