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Episode 56: Photography Claims of the Apollo Moon Hoax, Part 3

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Recap: The third of three episodes regarding photographic claims related to the Apollo Moon Hoax conspiracy. This contains a slew of miscellaneous claims, ranging from why we can't image the landers from Earth to why there are no stars in the photos to the infamous "C" rock.

Potential Solution to Episode 55's Puzzler: Congratulations to Warwick from the Land Down Undeh via e-mail for being the first and only to send in a possible mission. Though he cheated a bit 'cause he'd already written this for a class two years ago. But that's okay, one can always reuse previous work if it's relevant. His solution was interesting, if expensive. It's a three-rover solution with two main ones tethered to a smaller one that they could move around and lower into interesting places like caves or over cliffs. The instrument package included a microscope similar to the Beagle lander, the ChemCam instrument on Curiosity, a gas analysis package similar to Beagle's, and three other instruments to detect specific chemistries related to life as we know it. Overall, if funded and successful, it does seem like a package that would be capable of answering the question, at least in the locations that it ended up exploring.

Puzzler: If you were to be approached by a rational Apollo Moon Hoax proponent, what do you think is the most convincing piece of evidence that the landings were real?

Q&A: This episode's question comes from Chris S. from across the pond who asks: "If a comet flew by close enough to the earth would the trail of the comet fall down to earth and create rain and possibly even a great flood? (I'm sure you know what i'm hinting at!)"

The answer is yes and then no.

Comets do have tails that can stretch 10s of millions of kilometers long -- yes, that's on the scale of how far a planet like Mercury is from the Sun. Really, really long.

And, Earth can pass through those tails. In fact, it happened with Halley's comet back in 1910 with people buying gas masks because we had, for the first time, detected some poisonous gases in the tail and we were going to pass through them.

But, comet tails are incredibly thin, and the particles are incredibly tiny. Practically all will burn up in our atmosphere, and while you may get a meteor shower, you're not going to get an actual rain shower.

For you to really get something like rain and a great flood of the type that I think you're hinting at -- Noah's Flood from the Judeo-Christian Bible -- you'd have to have something like a large comet actually hitting Earth and parts of the comet being incorporated into the debris cloud and, after vaporizing, condense back out and fall as rain.

In other words, you need something large enough to survive passage through Earth's atmosphere, or at least most of Earth's atmosphere, and either impact and have debris rain down, or disintegrate in the atmosphere enough to not land as chunks, but somehow as rain. And I'm not quite sure if that latter scenario could actually happen.

New News:

  • Not exactly a new news item because it's not new science related to a previous topic, but the Skeptoid podcast run by Brian Dunning just put out a Flat Earth "Theory" as episode #338. He doesn't go too much into showing why Earth is actually spherical, but it's a pretty good episode on the history of the idea, which is something that I didn't really go into in my episode on the topic. (Episode 33)

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. In Part 2 (Episode 35), I addressed some of the features that were in the photos themselves that people point to to say the Apollo landings were faked. This episode is the miscellaneous one with a few other main claims people make that are somewhat related to photography about the Apollo landings.

Why Can't We Image from Earth?

One claim that I would often hear, and in fact still see today in 2012, is that if the Apollo landings on the Moon were real, then why can't we point a telescope on Earth to them and see them? After all, Hubble can see billions of light-years away, surely it can see something on the Moon!

The problem with this is a false major premise, that light-gathering power is equivalent to angular resolution.

Hubble and other multi-meter-sized telescopes can gather a lot of light. This means they can see otherwise very faint objects.

This is very different from saying that they can see objects that appear very small from Earth. Think of it this way: Our nearest star is the sun. Within a radius of just 10 light-years, there are several stars. But, even Hubble can't resolve them into a disk, it can only see them as one pixel on the detector -- or a group of smeared pixels due to various properties of optics that I'm not going to get into.

In other words, these are objects visible to the naked eye, and are bright, but even our best telescopes can't see them as anything other than a single point. And yes, before I get angry e-mails, there are a few stars that we can resolve like Betelgeuse because it's a very very big star.

But the point here is that brightness relates to the ability for good telescopes to view those objects that are faint has nothing to do with their ability to pick out tiny details.

And that's the case with Apollo landers. There's a fundamental property of optics that light passing through an optical system will be spread out in what's called the point spread function. This is why even a perfectly focused telescope will still show a star as a disk even though the true resolving ability is less than a pixel would be covered by the star.

The point spread function is not only a disk, but it has very faint rings around it called an Airy pattern, named after a guy called George Biddell Airy who discovered this in the early 1800s.

From the Airy pattern, Lord Rayleigh a few decades later codified what is now called the Rayleigh Criterion for optical systems, where the ability to separate two points in any optical system is when the center part of their Airy disks don't overlap.

To figure out what this is he used Bessel functions - named after another guy named Bessel - and solved the Airy function and came up with a simple formula that we still teach today in introductory physics. The formula states that the angular size of what can be resolved is a function of the color of light you're using and the diameter of your optical system.

You can then fairly easily use this to figure out if any of the Apollo relics are resolvable in any optical system from Earth. The answer is that they are not -- for green light, Hubble can only resolve something about 370 meters across, much larger than any Apollo relic. The largest optical telescope on Earth, the Keck 10-meter telescopes in Hawai'i, can resolve objects about 4x smaller than Hubble under ideal circumstances, but that's still over 10x too large to resolve anything left by the astronauts from Apollo.

So, from this analysis, it's really basic physics that shows why this particular claim of the Apollo moon hoax is wrong.

Lens Flares are present when they shouldn't be because they were using the best possible lenses

This is a claim I rarely see, but it's out there so I'll briefly address it. It's based on a fundamental lack of understanding that "better" and "best" does not mean "perfect" and "ignores basic optics laws."

A good camera lens will be clear, will have little coma and chromatic aberration, will have good focus across a wide range of apertures, will have even illumination across the field of view, and other things.

But I don't care how good your camera lens is nor what it's coated with - and I have some that run over $2,000 - if you point your camera lens close to a bright light source like the sun, you're going to get lens flares. The flares are caused by internal reflections within the lens itself, and while good lenses will minimize these, if you point to the sun, you're going to get 'em.

The backgrounds in some photos aren't right ...

... the LM changes size but the mountains don't, proving the LM was moved around a movie set as required for good shots but used the same background for different locations.

This is an issue with forced perspective. What the hoax proponents say IS actually possible and not based on a misunderstanding this time, which, honestly, is quite rare. The phenomenon can easily be duplicated on a set on Earth. But that doesn't mean that it disproves the moon landings, because it's also what happens on the Moon.

On Earth, we have air. Which is good because it means we can live. But air has a certain extinction factor and haziness, meaning that if an object is far away, it'll look washed out. If it's really far away, it'll look even more washed out. But if an object is really close, it looks clear and distinct. For those who are not visually challenged, our brains are trained from a very early age to recognize this effect and use it to judge if not absolute distances, then relative distances. Even a mountain peak just a few miles or kilometers away from you on Earth will have a bit of this effect.

And that fails completely on the Moon because there is no atmosphere to speak of. This means that a lunar module or rock that's just a few meters away is going to look just as clear and distinct as a mountain range 100 km or miles away. You have no way to judge distance from an atmospheric extinction.

So now, if you move, say, double the original distance from the lunar module or rock, it's going to look substantially smaller to you. But that 10 meter extra distance when added to a mountain peak 100 km away is practically nothing. So the nearby objects will appear to change size and position relative to a background object, but the background object will stay almost exactly the same.

Who took Video of Neil Armstrong Descending onto the Moon and the LM lifting off the Moon?

This is a claim that, when you first hear it, makes you think, "Yeah, who DID film Neil Armstrong descending the lunar module, and who DID film the module taking off again?"

But then if you do any actual thinking about it, you should realize, "Well, duh, people at NASA knew they wanted to tape it, so they would have mounted a camera on the side of the lunar module that could be triggered remotely to start recording."

And that's what happened. Armstrong had a string that he pulled once he exited the module that deployed an arm with a TV camera and that's what filmed him walking down the module onto the lunar surface. To NOT have this in place would have been questionable and perhaps led to conspiracies, the fact that they DID just shows that someone put a few moments of thought into it.

As for the module taking off, there is no footage for Apollos 11, 12, and 14. Apollos 15, 16, and 17 all had a lunar rover, and on the lunar rover there was a camera that could be remotely controlled from Earth.

In fact, operators at Earth forgot a bit about that two-second light-travel time delay, and they almost missed the take-off entirely for Apollo 15. They did better with 16, and got it almost perfect with 17.

So this particular conspiracy claim may seem to - as with others - make sense if you don't think about them, but as soon as you do, they have an obvious common-sense solution that likely you would have thought of on your own if you were at NASA planning these.

The American Flag is Always Lit Regardless of Side

This, as with most other conspiracy claims related to Apollo landings, at first makes sense. After all, if there was one light source, then how can an object appear to be lit up regardless of whether you're in front of it or behind it? There must have been a second light source!

The solution comes from the material. The flags were made of nylon. Nylon flags are translucent, meaning that they let some light through. For example, take a non-brand-dependent facial tissue and look at it in a room with a single light source. It'll be lit. Now hold it up to the light source so that it is between you and the light source. It'll still be lit.

And that's why the flag appears lit -- it's really that simple.

There Are No Stars!

The penultimate claim for this episode is the perennial "Where are the facocta stars!?"

And surprisingly, I'm not going to go into much detail with this one because I've covered it before in numerous ways in other episodes. I refer you back to Episode 35 on crosshairs in the Apollo photos and the two-part Episodes 47 and 48 on image processing. The basic reason is two words: Dynamic range.

Dynamic range is the measure of how many shades of brightness can be in something. In an image, it's dark to light. The Apollo astronauts took photographs that were properly exposed for daytime on the Moon to take photographs of themselves and their surroundings. They were not nearly long enough to capture any stars other than the sun in the film.

Yes, I know that the sky is black. Therefore it must be night so there must be stars, right?

Wrong. With no atmosphere on the moon to scatter light to make the sky a certain color, the sky on the moon looks black regardless of what time of day it is because there is, in a manner of speaking no sky to be seen.

And no, it's also not because the folks at NASA were afraid that if they put stars on the black backdrops that someone would figure out that stars were in the wrong place and call them on the hoax.

The Moon might be 386,000 km away, but relative to the stars, that's bupkis. Nothing. The stars would be in the exact same position, at least to the precision of a wide-field camera photo, as they appear on Earth.

That's not to say there are no stars in some Apollo photos. There was ultraviolet photography in later missions specifically to photograph stars with longer exposures, and they did, but that's for a future episode.

The "C" Rock

The final claim is the infamous "C" rock. Why is there a rock in photo AS16-107-17446 that clearly, in some prints, shows a large capital letter "C"?? Clearly, the prop guy got sloppy or wanted to leak that it's a hoax.

Even Richard Hoagland and Mike Bara have debunked this claim, which is really saying something considering that Hoagland is among the Kings of Pareidolia and anomaly hunting.

There are many ways to go about showing why this is a ridiculous claim. I'm going to tell you three, and as far as I know, the last one is original to me, but I'm sure someone may have thought of them before.

The first way is going back to the idea of, let's say this really was done on a sound stage. Does anyone actually label individual props, especially the hundreds of rocks that are in the Apollo scenes? Seriously? Anyone? No, props, especially similar ones numbering in the dozens to hundreds, are not labeled for movie sets.

The second way is that this is just a hair that got trapped between the print someone was copying and the imaging device. If you go back to earlier generation prints, the "C" is not there.

The third way is to look at the photograph immediately before this, AS16-107-17445. It shows half of the same scene, including the "C" rock, but the "C" is not there. It has to be there if it was in AS16-107-17446 and a real feature.

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