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Episode 65: José Escamilla's Movie "Celestial"

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Recap: The movie "Celestial" is an hour-long fantasia of misunderstanding images and parediolia. In this episode, I talk more about the basics of image processing and delve into more detail about color compositing than I have in previous episodes.

Answer to Puzzler from Episode 64: The recipe is for buckeyes. For those of you not from the midwest of the United States, as in the Ohio, Michigan, Indiana area, buckeyes are so-named because they look like the nut from the buckeye tree, which is the state tree of Ohio. Buckeyes are basically chocolate-covered peanut butter balls. Basically, a round Reece's peanut butter cup®. When I would make these in grad school for parties, they were nicknamed "Diabetes Balls."

Puzzler: Why does the Sun appear yellow?

Q&A: This episode's question comes from Darrin S. from Las Vegas, NM, USA who asks: "How do you engage in conversation with those who believe in a WOO subject but [are] generally rational?"

It's an interesting question and I think many people have many different approaches. For me, there are two:

The first is that I would ask what their best evidence for [insert woo topic] is. If that best evidence is in any way investigatable and I have the time and interest, I would do so.

Along with that, the second approach, and one that I've been taking more frequently lately, is to ask a simple question: "What would it take to falsify your belief?" If they're a rational person and they just have this particular sacred cow, then they should be able to come up with a rational answer that is doable. You can then try to do that and you're done.

For example, with the lunar ziggurat saga last summer with Mike Bara, Mike continued to move the goalpost, asking for one piece of evidence and then another and another. I eventually, in my brief 3-minute stint on Coast to Coast as a caller, asked him what it would take to falsify his belief. He responded that it would take original or near-original prints or film negatives (not realizing the film used was positive) of the photographs from Apollo that had a clear chain of custody and to have his feature not be there. Something like that is nearly impossible at this point in time, but it was at least a seemingly rational answer.

Alternatively, if the person says that there is NOTHING that would disprove their belief, then that's the end of the conversation. It's a belief, and no amount of argument you make will change it so there's really no point unless you like to hit your head with an anvil repeatedly.

Additional Materials:


Claim: The basic claim of Escamilla in this particular film is that NASA and everyone else is lying to you about the true color of the Moon, and that there are anomalies that are evidence of advanced technology being used. It's somewhat related to his previous two films, where he argued the same thing, but also that spots of bright color that show up in hidden photos are actually UFOs. He laid off a bit on the UFOs in this film.

Background into Escamilla

This is going to be a short episode. But, to lengthen it a bit, I'm going to give you some background into the man himself. As with other episodes about a specific person's specific claim or small set of claims, this is not done as an ad hominem attack on them, but I do it because I think it's interesting and informative about the broader mindset of the person making these claims.

José's claim to fame was not really UFOs nor anything to do with the Moon, but rather, it was rods. For those who are fortunate enough not to know, rods are rod-like anomalies that José found in film footage. He is an ardent UFOlogist, and so he spent a long time with his camera pointed up trying to catch UFOs on film or tape or CCD. And, he captured what look sorta like rods. As in, elongated somewhat rectilinear shapes.

He called them "Rods" and proceeded to go on Coast to Coast and other venues and talk about these literal UFOs. Though I opted NOT to listen to the roughly 10 hours of Coast audio that I have of him for this episode, if memory serves, José did not attribute these to actual piloted or remotely operated craft, but rather to alien animals effectively swimming through the atmosphere of Earth. Or alien craft. But usually animals.

As it turns out, these are animals, but rather mundane terrestrial insects that when you have a regular film speed of either 25 or 30 frames per second, the insect moves over the course of a frame and looks exactly like José's rods. This was clearly debunked on the History Channel's MonsterQuest show, and it's also pretty much exactly the same thing behind the Denver UFO case from mid-November, 2012.

José went on to produce a UFO documentary entitled, "UFO, the Greatest Story Ever Denied," which was followed-up by his "Moon Rising" documentary. The latter is where he latched onto the claims of the moon being multi-colored but a big coverup, among other things, that is the focus of his third film, "Celestial."


I debated doing a full, in-depth, blow-by-blow analysis of this hour-long movie, or just going to the main claim itself. In the end, I decided to go to the main claim itself and spare you the details. Details are for the movie review of "John Carter" to come out in a few months, which Richard Hoagland thinks is a documentary of ancient Martian technology. He dragged his homeopathist wife to see it several times ... but I digress.

I downloaded this nearly hour-long movie from where he had posted it on YouTube. If you ignore content entirely, it's an interesting film. The music is very grand, giving you the impression that this is a major production. It has interviews, and voice overs, and other than going a bit too fast over parts of the Moon and making you dizzy, it's reasonably well put together.

If you ignore content.

I did watch the entire movie. I had to do it in short spurts because - and I realize this is less objective than I usually try to be - but I felt dumber every minute I watched the movie. About 95% of the movie was admitted pareidolia and a gross misunderstanding of image processing.

To get the pareidolia out of the way first, he states around 18 minutes in that a certain feature "looks like an eel with its jaws open to me, but to others it will look different, but it is a strange structure of some kind." José, that's pareidolia, almost by definition.

Image Processing: Recovering Information

The reason that I'm talking about this movie at all is because it gets more into some aspects of image processing that we've covered before on this podcast, but some that we haven't. There are really three broad categories that I want to talk about in this episode.

The first is one that I've talked about somewhat before, and that's the concept of recovering data that has been removed.

Roughly 11.5 minutes into the movie, Sr. Escamilla makes a big deal about a particular Apollo 17 photograph taken from orbit. He claims that the film was published as over-exposed. But, he can restore all of the lost, over-exposed information by increasing the contrast a lot to make the darks darker and the lights lighter, and then restore the original colors by playing with the color balance. He then claims that now he can do analysis "after getting the photo back as close to its original version" as possible.

The problem with this is that he's wrong. You can't. If he's correct in that the original image, or the print he's working from, was over exposed, then that means that regions of it are saturated, bright white, and you lose all detail within those regions. It's gone. You CAN'T get it back.

And, as I covered in the image processing episodes about 20 episodes ago, increasing the contrast further removes information, changing what's there. As does him playing with the color. Far from restoring anything, he's further manipulating it.

Image Processing: 3-D Structure?

The second topic is actually his last in the film, and that's what he claims is a structure many miles tall on the Moon. As evidence, he shows a fuzzy object that, if you measure how many pixels it appears to be, is many times larger than the tallest human-built statues on Earth.

The problem with this claim is that he misses that he's looking at a map of the surface of the Moon taken from an orbiting spacecraft looking pretty much straight down. He's not seeing ANY vertical structure. He's seeing only horizontal structure. Even *if* the structure he's looking at were artificial, it's not tall, it's long.

Image Processing: Color Composites

The third topic is color composites. I talked about these briefly back in Episode 48. In it, I said that spacecraft cameras have different color filters on the cameras and so take images in various different colors. When you take an image through a color filter, what's recorded is black-and-white.

Later, in the computer, you can colorize one filter to correspond to, say, red. You can colorize another image from another filter to be green, and another from another filter to be blue. That gives you a three-color composite that you can then analyze.

But that does NOT mean that if you were to look at the object with your own eye it would look ANYTHING like that three-color composite. In fact, it's very rare that this would actually be the case because we most often image things using filters that do not correspond to the three types of color receptors in the human eye. We image them in wavelengths corresponding to specific atoms or molecules or features we want to study.

For example, I was just brought on for a brief, 6-month job to help plan the pre-Pluto encounter of the New Horizons spacecraft from about January 2015 through 20 days BEFORE closest approach on July 14, 2015. So I have been doing a lot of background reading into the different instruments on the spacecraft. One of the cameras is called "Ralph" and images things in the visible and infrared part of the spectrum.

Ralph has two imagers, one of them taking pictures similar to what we've talked about before on this podcast. That one has six different imaging detectors. Two are redundant and called "panchromatic" because they just take a picture pretty much irrespective of what color light hits them -- anything from violet to the mid-infrared, it will see and record. Three of the remaining detectors are what we call "broad-band" filters, one being blue which goes from 400 through 550 nm, which your eye would see as very faint violet through bright green. Another is "red" which goes from 540 to 700 nm, or what your eye would see as bright green through faint red. The other is near-IR, which is 780-975 nm, invisible to the eye.

The final, sixth detector, is a very narrow-band detector that is centered around an emission by the molecule methane, 860-910 nm. They have this specific methane detector because there are lots of indications that methane plays an important role on Pluto's surface and atmosphere. In other words, this camera will take pictures basically showing where methane is abundant. It's in a wavelength we can't see. So is the near-IR. And yet, I can guarantee you that when images are released, they'll be three- or four-color composites in the human visible range, false-color, meant to bring out details that we can more easily interpret. For example, they may make the methane bright green, the "blue" filter blue, and the "red" filter red. So, anything that appears bright green in the composite image means that there's a lot of methane in that spot.

The reason I'm going into this bloody detail again is that roughly 80% of José's movie is looking at FALSE color maps of the Moon created by the Clementine spacecraft in the mid-1990s. I've included some links to the Clementine information and maps in the show notes.

Clementine could image the moon in 10 different colors, ranging from the ulta-violet to the visible and then many in the infrared. In fact, it only had one UV band, one visible band, and all the rest were infrared. So, right off the bat, EVERYTHING that José says about the color of the Moon from the Clementine photography is wrong. I know that's a very broad statement, but it's true. No, it is NOT the "true" color of the moon.

The Clementine maps clearly state that in their three-color composite mosaics of the lunar surface, the color blue is set to the UV filter, the color green on your computer screen is set to the near-infrared 900 nm filter, and the color red in the image is set to the 1000 nm near-infrared filter. Yes, it is an RGB composite. But there is nothing "natural" about it in the sense that this is what your eye would or could or should see.

And, the VAST majority of the film is then taking those maps and reading into the colors and misinterpreting things. He sees a feature that appears dark blue in the maps and says that's a tunnel entrance. No, it's a feature that's bright in UV and dark in IR. He goes across the entire surface pointing at what are clearly fresh craters and says these are domes and mounds. And it really just goes on and on like that.

Conspiracy, of Course

This all gets back to the idea that NASA and everyone else is wrapped up in this conspiracy to hide the Truth from you. [Clip from Celestial, starting 32:02]:

"I can only imagine what else they know, and what they have done to keep us dumbed down."

I don't know if José really believes what he says -- he definitely seems sincere in his interviews and movies. What this does is get to a broader question of laypersons doing science. It's a topic I've addressed on my blog before in the context of Alex Tsakiris playing scientist, and one that I may port over to a podcast episode at some point. It's also a question that I face in half of my job with the citizen scientist project "MoonMappers" and now "MercuryMappers," too.

How do people who aren't trained in this work interpret things? Is it the same way that scientists do? If not, why not? And if we want people to be able to do data-gathering to help us do real science, what minimum amount of training do we have to force people to go through before we give them data to analyze?

It's an interesting set of questions, and I'd be interested in what you think about them. To get back to the subject of this episode, in the case of the movie Celestial, José presents a very clear instance of someone who has no idea what he's really looking at, no idea of how the data are gathered and displayed, and no idea of what's really going on -- the very thing of which he accuses the rest of us.

Provide Your Comments:

Comments to date: 2. Page 1 of 1. Average Rating:

Jim   Earth

8:48pm on Sunday, April 12th, 2015 

It surprises me how many people think these conspiracy theorists are sincere.

They aren't, they know full well there is nothing on the moon. It's called monetization of conspiracy theory. They make millions selling books.

Another example of the difference between smart and smarts.

gwenola   romania

12:15pm on Wednesday, November 20th, 2013 

Well, this article gives us an insight about the power of critical thinking... Which means that, in order to be able to have a true own opinion, one should aquire the necessary knowledge to question both your claims as well the Cellestial. The big question is: DOES ONE HAVE ENOUGH TIME FOR THAT? As far as the sciens says, its easier to go for the expert's statement. One has only to choose, who they can see as the expert in this case.

Anycase, I would like to thank you for the article and for reminding me of how important is to be effortfull. All the best!

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