Jul 21 2014

Moon Hoax Anomaly Hunting

Yesterday, July 20th, was the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the surface of the moon, and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin becoming the first and second humans to walk on the surface of another world. This is, to be sure, one of the greatest achievements of the human species.

There are those, however, who claim that we never sent astronauts to the moon, that the entire thing was an elaborate hoax by the US, meant to intimidate our rivals with our spacefaring prowess. As is typical of most grand conspiracy theories, they have no actual evidence to support their claim. None of the many people who would have to have been involved have come forward to confess their involvement. No government documents have come to light, no secret studios have been revealed. There is no footage accidentally revealing stage equipment.

What the moon hoax theorists have is anomaly hunting. This is the process of looking for something – anything – that does not seem to fit or that defies easy explanation, and then declaring it evidence that the standard story if false. Conspiracy theorists then slip in their preferred conspiracy narrative to take its place. Sometimes they are more coy, claiming to be “just asking questions” (also known as jaqing off), but their agenda is clear.

Genuine anomalies are of significant interest to science and any investigation, no question. For an apparent anomaly to be useful, however, mundane explanations need to be vigorously ruled out (conspiracy theorists tend to skip that part). Only when genuine attempts to explain apparent anomalies have failed to provide any plausible explanation should it be considered a true anomaly deserving of attention.

At that point the answer to the anomaly is, “we currently don’t know,” not “it’s a conspiracy.”

The reason that anomalies, in and of themselves, are not very predictive that something unusual is going on, is that they represent one method of mining vast amounts of data looking for desired patterns. Conspiracy theorists, in essence, make the argument (or simply implication) that where there is smoke there is fire, and then offer apparent anomalies as the smoke. This is a false premise, however. If apparent anomalies count as smoke, then there is smoke everywhere, even without fires.

In other words, any historical event is going to have countless moving parts, curious details, apparent coincidences, and complex chains of contingency. Further, people themselves often have complex motivations contingent upon the quirky details of their lives. All of this is raw material for apparent anomalies. It would be remarkable if you couldn’t find apparent anomalies when combing through the details of an historical event.

Here are some of the alleged anomalies that moon hoax conspiracy theorists have pointed out over the years. One major category is photographic. They point to the lack of stars in the moon’s sky, the visibility of astronauts with the sun behind them, and the non-parallel shadows of different objects lit by the same source.

These all derive from the fact that the moon is an unfamiliar location for photography. These apparent anomalies all have simple explanations. The stars are simply washed out. The landscape is uneven, hence the non-parallel shadows. And the moon’s surface is highly reflective, providing the fill light to make the front of astronauts visible even when the sun is behind them.

Another unfamiliar property of the moon is the lack of atmosphere, allowing the flag to flap for a long time once moved by an astronaut. Without air to dampen the oscillations, they continue.

One more technical point often raised is the claim that the astronauts would have been killed by radiation from the Van Allen belts and cosmic rays. This is simply untrue, however. The Apollo 11 astronauts received a total of about 11 millisieverts of radiation, with a lethal dose being about 8,000 milisieverts (or 8 sieverts) NASA’s limit for lifetime exposure to radiation is 1 sievert, about what astronauts would get on a one-way trip to Mars. What saved the Apollo astronauts was the brief total overall time exposed to radiation. The longest Apollo missions lasted 12 days.

Beyond the lack of evidence for a conspiracy, and the non-anomaly anomalies, there is a huge plausibility problem with the moon hoax conspiracy. Why haven’t other countries, like Russia, ever come forward with evidence that their tracking does not support NASA’s story? Where did all the moon rocks come from (and don’t say meteorites, those would look different due to their travel through the atmosphere, and we would never have found so many from the moon).

It’s unlikely the US could have pulled off the hoax, and some have argued it would have actually been easier to just send astronauts to the moon.

There is also undeniable evidence that there are human artifacts on the moon. Anyone with the equipment and knowledge can fire up a laser and bounce the beam off a corner reflector left on the surface of the moon.

Conspiracy theorists long have said that if we went to the moon, why are their no pictures from telescopes. Well, telescopes do not have the resolving power, but moon probes do. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken pictures of multiple Apollo landing sites, showing equipment left behind, and the tracks made by the astronauts.


The evidence is overwhelming and undeniable that NASA sent multiple missions to the moon, leaving behind footprints and equipment and bringing back moon rocks and history.

Conspiracy theorists, however, deny the undeniable with flimsy and easily refutable claims of alleged anomalies. They have no evidence to support their theory, and cannot put forward even a coherent narrative. They do tell us something about the human capacity for motivated reasoning and self-deception.

In a way, therefore, the Apollo missions (with their attendant conspiracy theories) represent the best and worst aspects of human potential.

28 responses so far

28 Responses to “Moon Hoax Anomaly Hunting”

  1. DevoutCatalyston 21 Jul 2014 at 8:51 am

    Wish NASA would have had today’s video technology back then. The 16mm Apollo (and Gemini) footage seen in the documentary For All Mankind is positively stunning, 4K video would have been mind blowing.

  2. jasontimothyjoneson 21 Jul 2014 at 8:53 am

    Worse than this, there are people saying that the Bart Sibrel puch by Buzz was faked https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRBesDx1WQc

  3. jasontimothyjoneson 21 Jul 2014 at 8:58 am

    Also, if it wasnt a hoax, how do you explain that there is no leggo left on the moon? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GNYWHi_3RE

  4. Bruceon 21 Jul 2014 at 9:05 am

    I have watched the youtube videos of the moon landing many times and the only explanation for them is that they were made in a studio as all moon landing footage we have seen before or after was made in a studio and that footage looks like studio footage.

    (Am i doing it right?)

  5. scpecoraroIIIon 21 Jul 2014 at 11:08 am

    You got it Bruce. Does that sound familiar? http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/911-conspiracy-debate-part-iv/

  6. Kawarthajonon 21 Jul 2014 at 11:14 am

    # jasontimothyjones

    Aha! The Lego movie proves that the real moon landing was a hoax – you can see stars in the Lego moon landing but not the 1969 one! Plus, the background in the Lego moon landing was dark blue, whereas the 1969 one was black. There can only be one explanation for these anomalies – the people who planned the 9/11 demolition also planned the moon landing hoax!

  7. Bruceon 21 Jul 2014 at 11:25 am


    The only way you can prove that the moon landings happened is to model exactly the events exactly as the official story has explained it. No one has done an exact copy of the moon landings to any kind of scale (make a fake small moon and send fake small men to it) because we all know it completely destroys the laws of physics.

    Please only respond to my comment if you are a qualified doctor and you use your real name.

    (I will stop after this)

  8. mumadaddon 21 Jul 2014 at 11:54 am

    The way the flag ripples is consistent only with a hoax! This is the only scientific explanation, even a fifth grader could see that.

  9. LCon 21 Jul 2014 at 2:47 pm

    Bah! Those moon rocks fell at faster than free fall speeds. The symmetrical and rapid manner in which they fell is evidence — not for astronauts being on the moon — but but for a controlled demolition. On Earth. Energetic nanocomposites clearly were used here — or maybe thermite. Yeah, that’s it — energetic nanocomposites AND thermite.

    Any fifth grader could see that a moon rock that comes down as fast as as the slowest controlled demolition and as symmetrically as the most asymmetrical controlled demolition is, in fact, a controlled demolition. You sycophants simply refuse to acknowledge these basic facts, because you’re engaging in post-hoc ergo propter-hoc logic.

    This much is absolutely undeniable:

    Rocks on Earth fall.
    These “moon” rocks fell.
    Ergo, these “moon” rocks are really Earth rocks.

    Which explanation has more evidence? The official story with only logical fallacies to support it or the CD hypothesis that actually has real scientific evidence? Oh, we can’t get to the moon to see for ourselves — how conveeeeeeeenient! Which explanation involved gathering data first before producing a hypothesis? The official story which was pronounced immediately (see Cronkite, Walter) and which never ever had any supporting evidence or the CD hypothesis which was promoted only after evidence was found that the official story could not explain? Which explanation can explain all available evidence with actual scientific support as opposed to entirely unsupported pronouncements and other logical fallacies? Which explanation does not ignore evidence it cannot account for? If you can honestly answer all these questions with the controlled demolition hypothesis you too can be as smart as a fifth grade science student.

    Sincerely yours,


  10. Steven Novellaon 21 Jul 2014 at 3:04 pm

    Wow – Fullerton really got to you guys 🙂

    Understandable – vent away.

  11. the devils gummy bearon 21 Jul 2014 at 3:19 pm

    Just don’t “debate” the moon version of Fullerton. That was hard to watch.

  12. the devils gummy bearon 21 Jul 2014 at 3:27 pm


    (Am i doing it right?)

    You forgot to blather about logical fallacies. Also threats, you need more threats.

  13. jsterritton 21 Jul 2014 at 4:58 pm

    How convenient that all the evidence has been moved over 230,000 miles away. Snark.

  14. the devils gummy bearon 21 Jul 2014 at 5:43 pm

    You s**t driveling imbecilic blowhards, the official moon story is based on logical fallacies. Are you smarter than a fifth grader? Because if you are, then logical fallacies. Also, logical fallacies.

  15. Bruceon 21 Jul 2014 at 6:37 pm

    “You forgot to blather about logical fallacies. Also threats, you need more threats.”

    My fallacy is much too big to bring to this argument. All of your fallacies are too small and you wouldn’t know how to fallacy a real fallacy if it fallacied you in the fallacy. Just carry on blowharding your fallacies you imbefallacies!

    “Wow – Fullerton really got to you guys”

    He has created his own set of memes. Not quite what he intended, but I don’t think he could ever post again here without someone referencing them.

  16. Beerceon 21 Jul 2014 at 7:08 pm

    Guys, c’mon. There is only one thing you need to do to see that the moon landing was faked. Anyone can do it, it’s very simple:

    Consider a clockwork clock.

    That is all.

  17. the devils gummy bearon 21 Jul 2014 at 10:09 pm

    He was a meme machine. A strange, mean, meme-ing machine.

  18. BillyJoe7on 22 Jul 2014 at 12:53 am

    Forget about Fullerton, the Moon would not even be there if it wasn’t for:

    1) Chopra looking at it.
    2) Leo consciously observing it.
    3) Sonic’s knowledge of it.

  19. Davdoodleson 22 Jul 2014 at 3:47 am

    Not usually a fan of violence, but this video of Buzz Aldrin punching moon-hoax crank Bart Sibrel in the face after Sibrel called the feisty old astronaut a ‘coward and a liar and a thief’ is, well, most satisfying to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wptn5RE2I-k

  20. Cognogginon 22 Jul 2014 at 4:59 am

    You think the moon landing hoax is a big cover-up?

    That’s NOTHING!!!

    The biggest hoax is that we made it to “Amerika” or whatever they tell you it’s called. No way did tiny little wooden ships get that far! All the evidence is in paintings and props made by artists in the thrall of the Church of Rome!!!!!

  21. DevoutCatalyston 22 Jul 2014 at 10:37 am

    Davdoodles, man that was a solid punch !

  22. Vendetta88on 22 Jul 2014 at 11:37 am

    I WILL DEBATE YOU ALL!! However you must be willing to, use your real name, provide SSN and birth certificate (long form), you must prove you are my intellectual equal by having a certificate of completion of sixth grade signed by your teacher, a bachelors degree unrelated to astrophysiscs or space aeronautics and a Blockbuster Membership. You must also have a rogue hair growing out of your belly button and be able to consume a bag of Funyons and a six-pack of Heinekin without farting.

  23. Teaseron 22 Jul 2014 at 2:27 pm

    Stanley Kubrick

  24. the devils gummy bearon 22 Jul 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Stanely Kubrick? That is a straw man.

  25. Teaseron 22 Jul 2014 at 4:53 pm

    Ray Bolger played the straw man.

  26. saburaion 26 Jul 2014 at 10:22 am

    “And the moon’s surface is highly reflective, providing the fill light to make the front of astronauts visible even when the sun is behind them.”

    A correction here: Although your point is correct (fill light was provided by reflection from the surface), it is inaccurate by most standards to say that the moon’s surface is “highly reflective.”

    The lunar albedo is between 0.07 and 0.12, about as reflective as asphalt. Parts are lighter and darker, of course.

    See [http://www.asterism.org/tutorials/tut26-1.htm]

    For a “highly reflective” surface, compare to Enceladus, with an albedo of ~0.99.

    Thomas Bohn has done a great, totally home-made job of demonstrating that even low-albedo surfaces like the Moon’s can provide plenty of fill light for the Apollo photography in question:


  27. grabulaon 28 Jul 2014 at 1:11 am


    “Consider a clockwork clock.”

    Going deep for that one lol.

    The moon hoax was one of my first real forays into skepticism beyond the whole 9/11 thing. I hadn’t been aware there was as subset of people who believed it was fake until sometime after I got involved in sharpening my skeptical chops. The anomalies really hook you when you don’t know how to examine them skeptically. I remember seeing a few and having to do a lot of footwork at the time to really find the answers to explain away those things. I think these days those answers are easier to find but it was entertaining at the time.

  28. GolfTangoon 19 Oct 2014 at 12:26 pm

    I am convinced that humanity did go to the moon. DID go to the moon. I don’t wish to repeat his in the light of the rest of this. However I aspire and often fail to be a rational purist.

    Mr. Novella says “typical of all grand conspiracy theories”. Mr. Novella, why do you insist on clumping and clustering, can’t you just focus on one subject at a time?

    Mr. Novella says conspiracy theories have no evidence, then goes on to discus the evidence presented
    by the conspiracy theorists. If there was no evidence there would be no conversation.
    Is there some confusion between total lack of evidence, and flimsy poor quality evidence?

    Many people would be involved in the conspiracy. Would they? How many? Fifty? Five hundred?
    Fifty thousand? Couldn’t the men at mission control simply track a rocket going tot he moon, and coming back again, minus the astronauts, and be fooled just easily as the rest of us, including the
    Russians? How were secrets from world war two kept secret, some of them for decades like
    the code breaking at Bletchley Park? The Normandy landings were a huge conspiracy, so aren’t SOME conspiracy theories real?

    The moons reflective surface might provide fill light, but how come some of the photo’s are full scale
    back lit? How come another scientist said the photo’s could be explained by Earth shine?
    Regardless of moon reflected surface, or Earth shine, how do you explain the whoppers, re the reflections in the astronauts visor? Even with the moon refelct or Earth shine calculated in, and the uneven surface, how come several of the shadows are STILL way out? Not just a bit off, but way out? How little homework has Mr. Novella actually done on this aspect of the shadows?

    How come Mr. Novella appears not to even understand school boy physics as regards flag movement?
    How come the flag oscillates in two directions? How come the oscillations do not match the conditions on the moon as regards speeds and rate of decline?

    Couldn’t footprints and other items be placed on the moon mechanically?

    Are people aware that in world war two the raising of the flag at Imo Jina was staged a short while
    after the event. In world war one, the British did the news shots a short while after some of the
    battles. Even some of the battle charges were re staged. Given that there were some contingency plans by NASA, for Apollo 11 to get off the moon in one hour in any emergency, is it too crazy to suggest that there were some studio shots for the publicity, done on Earth? Could there be an Imo Jina theory? Could NASA ever admit that now?

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