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Episode 35: Photography Claims of the Apollo Moon Hoax, Part 2

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Recap: In this Part 2 of a two+ -part series, I go over four alleged anomalies related to crosshairs and shadows made by Apollo Moon Hoax proponents. I also introduce a new segment, "New News" related to previous episodes.

Puzzler: What was the first spacecraft to orbit the Moon after Apollo that would have been able to photograph and resolve the Apollo landing sites?

Solution to Episode 33's Puzzler: Yes, objects casting shadows from a single light source can be non-parallel.

Q&A: Chris B. from Australia asks: "Now I always tell my kids that the apparent variation in the size size of the moon in the sky is an optical illusion and that you can always cover the moon's disk with your thumb if your arm is outstreached. Cloud prevented me from testing this proposition on the night of the big moon... So can you tell me does the proposition hold in all circumstances including this perigee moon situation."

The angular size of the moon varies from 29.3 to 34.1 arcmin. Everyone's thumb varies in width and everyone's arm varies in length. The numbers I've seen are that your thumb held at arm's length is roughly 1/2° (30 arcmin). So, one could say that the "rule of thumb" holds generally in most circumstances for this. If your thumb normally covers the full moon, it probably covered the "supermoon."

New News Segment:

Additional Materials:


Claim: In Part 1 (Episode 31), I addressed several of the claims about how the photographs were taken as opposed to alleged anomalies within the photographs themselves. This episode is more the latter, where I'm going to focus on crosshairs and shadows. Stuff like stars in the photos will be saved for a future episode, though it was somewhat addressed in the Puzzler for Episode 31.

I'm going to use audio clips from Bart Sibrel's docudrama, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon."

There will be several supporting images on the website for this episode ... and since I'm a masochist, I am toying with the idea of making something like a YouTube video for this episode to help illustrate these claims. If anyone has particularly strong feelings about me making a movie for this episode, please get back to me by e-mailing.

With that said, let's get started ...


The first two claims I'm going to talk about are related to crosshairs. If you've ever looked at Apollo images you may remember seeing crosshairs littered throughout the scene. These are also called "fiducials" or "reticles," and they were physically etched on a glass plate that was placed between the camera lens and the film prior to launch.

They were etched with a uniform thickness and size, and they were aligned to the image edges. The center one was a little bigger than the rest.

These crosshairs were put in there to establish a geometric basis for measuring objects in the photos. Back in the day of analogue and before Photoshop, people could use the crosshairs to correct for misalignments of the film in the camera, distortions of the image after development or scanning, and figuring out angular sizes of objects that were photographed.

It's basically like putting graph paper over the image.

Crosshairs Not Centered, Parallel to Image Edges

The first anomaly claim to do with the fiducials is advanced in Bennet & Percy's book, "Dark Moon" on page 68. They state, "In some photographs the large crosshair is not centered, and in others the grid is not aligned with the image boundaries."

I'm starting with that quote because it's the most anachronistic of the ones I'm going to talk about today, and the rebuttal is something I'd expect most people to know about today ... it's called "Crop and Rotate."

Especially in this day and age, I haven't really seen people make this particular claim because of the saturation of image processing software out there that every five-year-old and their grandmother knows about. Remember - this was a PR campaign with some science tacked on the end. "We choose to go to the moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard" makes no mention of, "because there are fundamental science questions that can be answered by landing people on the moon."

So in NASA's press office, imagine a dozen or a hundred people pouring over the latest thousand photos returned from the last Apollo mission. One of them finds a good photo of an astronaut descending the lunar module's ladder onto the lunar surface. But there's a problem with the photo -- it looks like the ladder is straight up and down, the astronaut looks like they're going to fall off, and the horizon is all tilted.

So, this nameless press officer orders a duplicate, takes the duplicate, rotates it on his table, and lops off triangles along the edge to now make it square. And he has an astronaut proudly descending onto the lunar surface ready to explore a strange, new world.

But the crosshairs are all titled now, and the big center one isn't in the center. Darn.

What's my evidence for this? Every single image with the crosshairs not lining up with the image edges or the big one not centered are rectangles. The film used was square. Cropping MUST have happened to make a square a non-square rectangle.

Crosshairs Disappear!

The next claim has to do with disappearing crosshairs, which we hear in Bart Sibrel's movie: [Clip from "A Funny Think Happened on the Way to the Moon"].

Any photographer in the audience listening to that will probably know right away why Sibrel is wrong, and the term is two words: Dynamic Range.

Any device - analog or digital, audio or pictorial, or anything else - can only record something over a specific range. In Episode 32, Derek Bartholamous talked about this briefly with cassette tapes only able to record a certain frequency or pitch of sound. Similarly, camera film or modern detectors can only record a certain range of light.

To explain this, we're going to think about things digitally. Imagine a small piece of film as a small bucket for light. Light we're going to treat as a particle, a photon. If you have a really bright light source, it's emitting a lot of photons, and those are going to fill the bucket quickly. A faint light source is going to fill your bucket more slowly.

Meanwhile, the bucket is only so big. If you leave it out to collect light for a long time, it's going to get filled up and all you can say is that in that spot, you got at least that many photons. You can't get any more information because the photons spilled over the sides of the bucket and couldn't be captured. If you had a deeper bucket then you'd be able to leave it out to gather photons longer because it's deeper ... it has a bigger dynamic range.

So now let's go back to the film. Each film grain is similar to our bucket, it can only record light over a certain dynamic range. If the shutter is open too long, then the bucket fills up and saturates and that spot is going to appear white.

Now let's say you put a little shield over it that blocks some of those photons. Some still get through. Others don't. But regardless, if you leave that grain exposed too long, it'll get filled up with photons and still will be saturated.

Now let's expand this to two dimensions. Tile your buckets, so you have a 3x3 grid. You have a shield over one of the buckets that prevents some of the photons from hitting it. But you have eight other buckets around it, and when those get saturated, some of the photons are going to spill over into the bucket that had the shield partly over it.

With buckets, I've now explained this entire claim away.

If the fiducials disappeared in an Apollo photo, it was ALWAYS behind a bright white object. It's because the dynamic range wasn't large enough, and/or because of bleeding over when the film was processed.

Or, because it's a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy ... anyone who's run off photocopies knows that each time you make another copy, you lose detail. Teeny tiny thin fiducials are going to be lost pretty quickly.

Finally, this claim on its face is kinda stupid. NASA had about 5% of the nation's budget during the Apollo era. Now we're at less than 0.5% of the nation's budget, but that's a different podcast. The idea that NASA is going to fake these photos by ADDING IN crosshairs after the fact is just stupid. It would have been much simpler just to "fake" them the way NASA said they took the photos, by having that glass plate in there, rather than have to make a composite with the crosshairs for EVERY SINGLE ONE of the THOUSANDS of Apollo photographs.

Objects Are in Shadow but Are Lit!

We're going to move on now from crosshairs to shadows. Here's the first of the two claims: [Clip from "A Funny Think Happened on the Way to the Moon"].

When I do live talks about this and first bring up this claim, I start off by asking people how many can see the screen. Usually only about 2/3 of people raise their hands, though I'm never quite sure why it's not everyone unless they're all asleep. Then I show a picture of an astronaut descending the lunar module ladder onto the moon and ask how many can see the moon in the photo. I think they think it's a trick question because at that point only half the people raise their hands.

It's not a trick question. The fact that you can see anything that is not emitting light - a light source like the sun or a lightbulb or your computer screen or something else - is that light bounces off of things. In fact, at least as far as I've been able to tell, we don't know of a single substance that does not reflect any light (and before people ask me about black holes, no, black holes are not a substance off of which light could reflect so that doesn't count). Even fresh asphalt will reflect about 4% of the light that hits it.

As an aside, we don't know of anything that will reflect 100% of the light that hits it. Fresh snow reflects around 80-90%, while mirrors are generally around 99%, but not 100%. This is why astronomers don't want to use bunches of mirrors in their telescopes, because each time the light reflects off a surface, you lose a little bit of it.

Anyway, the reason I go into this is that, as I said, light bounces. If you have a mirror, then it will bounce back at a known angle based on optical laws. If you have a normal surface, like, say, the Moon, then because of the texture, light will reflect in all different directions. That's called "scattering."

And so in photographs or video of an astronaut or object in the shadow of something else on the moon, the way we see them is because light only comes from one light SOURCE, the sun. It then reflects off the lunar surface, scattering in all directions, including some of it onto the astronaut. And then the light that hits the astronaut scatters in all directions, some of it into the camera lens and thus being recorded ... hence we get to see them even though there's only one light source, and the object is in shadow.

To prove this to yourself, go into a smallish room like a bathroom or lavatory or whatever you call it. Leave the light off and the door open, but leave a light on outside the room. The room should be in shadow. The only light source should be the single light outside the room. If you can see anything in that room, then that proves that objects in shadow caused by a single light source should still be lit.

As another aside, the reason that I didn't say to go stand in the shadow of a tall building is because some anal person would e-mail me and say, "But the sky is bright and so there isn't a single light source during the day of the Sun, the sky also lights stuff up." That's why you're doing this experiment inside.

Non-Parallel Shadows

This next shadow claim has to do with what the shadows look like: [Clip from "A Funny Think Happened on the Way to the Moon"].

If I do end up doing a video edition of this episode, the clip that accompanies this audio is priceless because it contradicts itself. The narrator says that regardless of topography, shadows remain parallel. They lie. They show you parallel shadows cast by trees and telephone poles on grass and the road and say that's different topography, but it's not. Then they just happen to show a car drive by. The few frames that have the car also have one of the shadows cast on the car. And it's perpendicular. That's different topography and non-parallel shadows.

So right there, I've already explained part of why this claim is wrong: Topography. You can see this yourself if you go outside and look at trees casting shadows on a hill. As the slope of the hill changes, the apparent shadow direction of the trees also change, even though there is only a single light source.

The other reason you get non-parallel shadows is because of perspective. This is something that you probably learned but forgot from middle school art class. At least in mine, we had to draw something like a desert scene with a road leading to the horizon line and telephone poles lining the road. The poles get smaller and smaller as they get closer to the horizon line, and the sides of your road converge. Even though they're parallel lines. Because of perspective.

Again, go do this yourself if you can. Go outside to a long stretch of road and look at light poles or telephone poles and look at the shadows they cast. They will NOT be parallel as they go off into the distance, they will appear to change direction because of perspective and foreshortening.

And so people who make this particular claim have forgotten their lessons from middle school art. For shame.

But meanwhile, every hoax proponent I have ever heard or read completely ignores what MUST be the case if you have multiple light sources that are casting shadows in different directions from objects that appear close by: EACH object MUST cast shadows in BOTH directions. Anyone who works in theater knows this, that if you have two or more lights on the stage, not only will multiple objects cast shadows in different directions, but EACH object will cast all of those shadows.

And yet ... surprisingly, no hoax proponent has ever mentioned this.


Those are really the main shadow and crosshair claims people make to promote the hoax idea that we never landed astronauts on the moon. As I said, there are some more photography claims, but those will be addressed in a future episode. Hopefully in this one you can start or continue to see why it's so easy to make up a hoax and so hard to refute it quickly and easily: Claims are simple to make. Explaining why they're wrong takes a knowledge of many different things.

Just in this episode, I talked about image processing, the physics of how photographs are actually recorded, optical properties of material and light, and concepts from art. In the Part 1 episode of photography claims, I talked about common sense, optics, camera mechanics, physics of radiation, and physics of heat transfer.

Meanwhile, all the hoax proponents have to do is spend five seconds to ask a stupid question or two.

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