Exposing PseudoAstronomy

July 16, 2009

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


Introduction

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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