An iconic image taken by the crew of NASA's Apollo 8. It's Christmas Day, 1968 and the whole world is in awe as the astronauts take a photograph of our fragile home rising above the desolate and lifeless lunar surface.
ANDY FLEMING debunks some of the outrageous conspiracy theories surrounding astronomy, space and, of course, NASA.
There is an exciting and absorbing conspiracy theory for every particular astronomical taste.
Unfortunately, they all share one thing in common... they all lack evidence or what evidence there is either circumstantial, is not reproducible, or has a much simpler explanation. This latter point is important... it's called Occam's Razor and it's the important guiding scientific principle that states that where there are a variety of explanations to phenomena available, then on balance it will be the simpler explanation that will be correct. If it quacks and looks like a duck, then chances are it is a duck.
There are of course some excellent sites that specialise in debunking these conspiracy theories and I would not, as an amateur astronomer presume to compete with them here. For example that famous debunker astronomer Dr Phil Plait has a superb website over at the Discover Magazine blogs called Bad Astronomy. Closer to home in the UK, a colleague of mine from the Cleveland and Darlington Astronomical Society Neil Haggath, B.Sc.(Hons.) MBCS, CITP, FRAS hosts the wonderful Space and Sanity website. The site rationally and convincingly debunks many of the conspiracy theories and scams listed above, also adding the "Name a Star" business rip-off, "Seeing" the Future, "Psychics" and "Mediums", The "Face on Mars", and "Mars as Big as the Moon".
The Apollo 11 landing site in Mare Tranquillitatis, taken by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). That very bright white spot near the left hand edge of the image, just above centre, is the descent stage of the Lunar Module Eagle – LRO was of course looking down on it from above. The smaller white dot, just below it, is the ALSEP (standing for Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package) – a package of scientific instruments deployed on the surface by Armstrong and Aldrin. The narrow dark lines, extending from the LM, are the trails of the astronauts’ footprints in the surface dust. (Courtesy NASA/Space and Sanity)
This photo is a close-up of the area around the LM. The LM descent stage – seen from above, remember - now shows as a big white blob, and you can just about make out that its shape is something other than round; its hull is in fact octagonal. But what about those four small white spots, forming a square near its corners? Well, they are its four footpads! The landing legs are angled outwards from the hull (obviously, for stability), so the footpads are visible in the aerial view. Each circular footpad is 86 cm across – so we would indeed expect them to be discernible at the resolution of LRO’s camera. We also see the trails of the footprints very clearly in this close-up – the “wiggly” nature of the tracks being entirely consistent with their being made by the boots of humans, rather than by anything mechanical. (Courtesy NASA/Space and Sanity)
Using Occam's Razor, one is also left realising that the whole Apollo project was true... anything else would have been hideously complicated, totally impractical and horrendously expensive. It all boils down to one salutary personal decision... will you continue to believe in misinformation, or will you learn some science and accept the evidence. As a firm believer in human nature, I know you'll decide on the latter!
Space and Sanity by Neil Haggath
Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit