Watchmen: they need my help

Watchmen: they need my help

Watchmen: they need my help

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Jan. 22 2009 4:24 PM

Watchmen: they need my help

A lot of people are getting pretty fired up about the Watchmen movie coming out any year now. This movie is based on the epic superhero graphic novel (comic book series to you) by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. I read it, and it's pretty good. I had some problems with the ending, but I'll save my comments for when the movie comes out.

Anyway, a new image was just released by the producers of the movie, and it shows a picture of Neil Armstrong on the Moon... taken by Dr. Manhattan, an ex-human who, through an atomic accident, became a glowing blue being of pure energy:

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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Pretty cool, eh? Yeah, but the debunker in me just has to point something out...

See the out-of-focus Earth on the left side of the picture? From the Moon, the Earth is about 2 degrees across, roughly four times the size of the Moon as seen from Earth. In the picture you can see the Earth is only a degree or two off the lunar horizon.

But that's wrong! The Moon always shows one face as seen from the Earth, and that means the Earth is always in roughly the same part of the sky from a spot on the Moon. To see the Earth that close to the horizon means the Apollo 11 landing would have to have been very close to the Moon's north or south pole (hard to tell which; the features on the Earth are too blurred to get a direction).

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However, Apollo 11 landed almost exactly on the Moon's Equator. To Buzz and Neil, the Earth was high overhead, difficult to see at all from inside the spacesuits.

Obviously, the Watchmen picture is faked.

[Update: Max Fagin in the comments makes a good point: there is a circle around the Moon where the Earth would be near the horizon, the divider between the near and far side of the Moon. But landing near there would be dangerous; for your first landing you want to be sure you are in direct visual contact with Earth, otherwise you can't communicate. That means landing near the center of the Moon's face. Assuming this was Apollo 17 (see below) changes that, but then why would Manhattan be there to take a picture of the 11th or 12th guy on the Moon? I don't buy it. And, as Brian Schlosser points out in the comments, this is definitely Apollo 11.]

A nice touch is the code on the side of the picture: AS17-137-20990. That's the coding NASA used for the pictures taken on the Moon. But... AS17 was used for Apollo 17, not 11. In fact, there is an Apollo picture taken with that code, and it's a famous one, showing orange dust on the Moon. The orange color is from tiny glass particles that are volcanic in origin (the story of them finding the orange dust is pretty cool, and you can read about it on the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal).

I don't know if the movie guys put that particular number there on purpose or not, but they screwed up the code.

I'm sure if I analyzed the picture more I'd find more stuff, but my geekery does have limits. Of course, if someone wants to examine the geometry of Dr. Manhattan holding the camera waist-high and the resulting tilt and angles of the picture, be my guest. I'll just wait for the movie and think it's cool either way.

The photo is from The New Frontiersman Flickr set. They have reserved all rights, so I have not copied it; the image above is linked directly from Flickr.