Another Moon Hoax claim bites the dust

Another Moon Hoax claim bites the dust

Another Moon Hoax claim bites the dust

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Jan. 30 2008 11:30 AM

Another Moon Hoax claim bites the dust

Will the Moon Hoax dumbosity ever end?

No, of course not. As long as people lack critical thinking skills, and are lazy, it won't.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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Why Phil, you are asking, what do you mean by "lazy"? I mean that nearly every hoax claim can be debunked with just a few minutes of investigation. Yet most people don't bother. Of course, it's daunting when the conspiracy theorists flood you with a bazillion dumb claims, but sometimes you just take 'em one at a time.

The latest comes from that bastion of antiscientific nonsense, Rense.com. In an article on that website, Ted Twietmeyer claims that an image from Apollo 16 is questionable. What's really questionable, however, is Twietmeyer's ability to do any actual investigation.

He found a picture from Apollo 16:

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Click to embiggen, or get a nice hi-res 1Mb version.

About this picture, Twietmeyer says:

This is about a pole standing on the Moon placed there by Apollo 16. It may be the flagpole, but that cannot be determined by this photo.

What? Of course it can be determined. What a ridiculous thing to say! If he had done any actual work --even a trivial amount -- he would have found everything he needs to explain this picture.

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Incredibly, and unlike most Moon Hoaxers, he gave the catalog name of this picture: AS16-115-18557. About thirty seconds of searching yielded me the transcript of what was happening on the surface of the Moon when that picture was taken. From this, I learned that the pole is actually what's called a double-core penetrometer, and not a flagpole. This is a device that allowed the astronauts to get deep samples of material from below the lunar surface.

Twietmeyer didn't bother to find out what the pole actually was, which is really pretty shoddy research. After all, it maybe just might play into the picture, dontcha think? As he says:

What's so amazing about this pole? Incredibly, the astronauts were able to hammer this into the ground without ever getting near it.

Well, that depends on what you mean by "near". The nearest bootprint in the photo looks to be about two feet or so away. What can we make of this?

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Well, another thirty seconds on teh googles gave me this image of the entire device:

This picture (click for a better version) is from a simulation of the use of the device, so the astronauts could practice using it. Look at the picture. The astronaut is standing a couple of feet back from the penetrometer, allowing him to use the side of a rock hammer to pound in the pole. He can't stand too close to it because of the limited movement of the spacesuit; he has to stand back to be able to reach it.

Also, reading the transcript linked above, I saw that Charlie Duke at first used his hands to ram the penetrometer into the surface. Then he moved off and let John Young use a hammer to pound it in the rest of the way. It looks to me from the picture taken on the Moon that Duke used his left hand to get the pole deep enough so that it would stand up, then moved around to let Young whack at it. Before Young actually hammered it, Duke took the picture. The footprint is sideways in the picture; it's entirely reasonable that Duke stood sideways to it when he hand-drove it into the surface. In fact, if you look at the hole the penetrometer made, the shape of the hole is consistent with Duke having stood sideways; the hole is an oval aligned left/right, as you'd expect if Duke were on the right, using his left hand to drive in the pole.

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That's it. There's your big conspiracy.

I love how Twietmeyer tries to make this sound so conspiratorial. He talks about zig-zag threads of dust where someone brushed over footprints... in his mind, that means someone was covering up evidence of the faker's shoe prints. In real life, those are most likely just streamers of dust from the astronauts boots as they moved around; the dust travels farther on the Moon than on Earth due to the low gravity and, more importantly, the lack of air and therefore air resistance.

He also goes out of his way to ask why don't we see a picture of the astronaut's face (I presume he means that of John Young, whose legs we see in the picture). Um, Ted, they were taking a picture of where the penetrometer was penetrating. As I have said a zillion times, one reason the astronauts went to the Moon was to take pictures of the Moon. In this case, they wanted a record of the surface around the device. Who cares what the astronaut looked like at that moment?

Sheesh. That's very typical of these guys; say something that sounds profound, sounds like there's a big mystery. But when you pull back the curtain, you find these guys are full of sound and fury, but they signify nothing.

It's funny-- it took quite a bit of effort for Twietmeyer to edit that photo, write up that page, and make all those silly claims. It would have taken far less effort to get the actual truth! It was trivial for me to find the answer.

I often wonder what these guys are thinking, what their motivation is. But in the end, what matters most is that they are wrong, and it's really really easy to show. I hope that the more people laugh at these silly antics, the more marginalized these goofballs become.

Tip o' the sun visor to Fraser for sending me this!