Jul 31 2012

Still Flying

Just a quick post today as I am busy covering the inpatient service. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has taken another stunning picture of an Apollo landing site, this one from Apollo 16. The photo shows a clear shadow from the American flag that was planting during that mission. The LRO has taken the highest resolution photos of the lunar surface from moon orbit, showing great detail of the Apollo missions. You can see the foot trails of the astronauts and all the equipment they left behind.

Because there is only extremely slow erosion of the moon’s surface, from micrometeorites, the lunar surface is essentially frozen in time, recording the activities of the astronauts who visited.

The flags have apparently lasted well. The only Apollo flag that is not visible is from Apollo 11, because that flag was knocked over by the exhaust when the lander blasted off the moon’s surface.

Of course I have to point out that these LRO photos are the nail in the coffin of absurd moon landing conspiracy theories (as if that were needed). For years conspiracy theorists asked why telescopes have not pictured the Apollo landing sites. That is a common strategy of conspiracy theorists – throw out questions about evidence that appears to be missing in order to make it seem curious or sinister, and without putting it into proper context or truly searching for an answer to their question. In this case telescopes are not suited to close up images of the moon. We needed to get a probe close to the moon’s surface. Now that we have, the asked for pictures are coming back.

Of course, no evidence will convince a die-hard conspiracy theorists. The evidence just becomes part of the conspiracy.

10 responses so far

10 thoughts on “Still Flying”

  1. ccbowers says:

    I wonder how faded these look so many years later. I am curious about photodegredation on the moon in comparison to the ways they could fade on Earth (even leaving the direct damage from the wind out of it since I think that would have destroyed the flags long ago). Although the moon does not have the filter that the earth has for electromagnetic radiation (therefore the flags are subject to much more UV and other damaging parts of the spectrum)- the moon also doesn’t have rain or oxygen to aid in the process of fading. Then there is the effect of temperature fluctuations.

  2. ccbowers says:

    “Of course I have to point out that these LRO photos are the nail in the coffin of absurd moon landing conspiracy theories (as if that were needed).”

    Hmm. A missing flag from the first time humans were on the moon? That won’t feed conspiracy theorists at all. I can just imagine the comments now

  3. ferrousbueller says:

    Here’s the math behind the following statement, for those that are interested:

    In this case telescopes are not suited to close up images of the moon.

    Assume the landing site is roughly 50 m in diameter. The moon is usually about 380,000 km or 3.8×10^8 m away, plus or minus about 20,000km.

    So the angular diameter, we’ll call it A, of the landing site as viewed from the surface of the Earth is given by

    A ~ sin(A) = 50m/(3.8*10^8m) = 1.3*10^(-7) radians, or 7.5*10^(-6) degrees.

    Astronomers like to measure angular diameters in arcseconds, since they typically deal with small angles (an arcsecond is 1/3600th of a degree, like a regular second is 1/3600th of an hour). The lunar landing sites therefore appear to be about 0.027 arcseconds in size from the surface of the Earth.

    The resolution of Earth-bound telescopes aren’t just limited by their optical capabilities (focus, vibrations, the quality and alignment of lenses). There is another limit based upon turbulent flow of atmospheric gases known as “seeing”. Because of these atmospheric disturbances, at sea level and on a relatively calm night, the smallest resolvable feature has an angular size of ~1.5 arcseconds.

    The very best seeing occurs at mountaintop observatories, but that’s still around 0.4 arcseconds. So, through a perfect telescope and observing from the optimal Earth-bound location, the landing site would look like a faint blob.

    Even space-borne telescopes have problems. Well crafted ones can only resolve objects up to the diffraction limit, an angular size that depends on the diameter of the lens/mirror and the wavelength of light being observed. Even the Hubble can’t make out the flags on the moon, simply because it’s too far away. (Source: http://suite101.com/article/can-hubble-space-telescope-see-flag-on-the-moon-a102517)

    Cool picture, and nice article, Dr. Novella. Thanks!

  4. ferrousbueller says:

    Oops, forgot to end my blocktext environment. Just got too excited about doing math I guess.

  5. nybgrus says:

    oh please. as if this proves anything. the very same people who faked the moon landing are now… so many years later… giving us “proof?” Ha. Ever heard of photo shop? Or CGI. This is so obviously a fake to keep everyone in the dark.



  6. Thadius says:

    nybgrus- Poe?

    well thats irelivant as the landings left mirrored reflectors that can be used by amiture cosmoligists with a laser and accurate timers to calculate the distance from the earth to the moon. Anyone can do it. “Crazy” people will still be “crazy” even if you give them rock solid evidence that they should not be.

    PS anyone excited about the landing on mars this weekend? I just hope they did the standard to metric conversions this time!

  7. locutusbrg says:

    Someone please make Joe Rogan Stop being the guy “just asking questions”. Here are your answers now go back to getting people to eat camel penis.

  8. Steven Daly says:

    As we laugh at the idea of a fake moon landing we miss a salient point; just because the moon landing happened doesn’t mean Nixon didn’t consider having a fake version just in case.

    While I’m not asserting he definitely created one, it is important to remember how critical this event was to America’s–and Nixon’s– prestige and real power in the world. It essentially won the “space race” with the Russians, captured the world’s attention like nothing ever had before, and put the USA/capitalism at the pinnacle of human achievement.

    It certainly would have been very difficult–involving too many people, not to mention a live TV feed–to pull off such a counterfeit if the mission had crashed ingloriously, or malfunctioned along the way, though national security and prestige might have been effectively evoked. Still it probably occurred to someone around Nixon, if not to Tricky Dick himself, that a “back-up” plan could be created as a possible hedge against the immense gamble, considering how huge the stakes were at the time. Knowing Nixon wouldn’t he want every bet covered to insure “triumph”? Just how or if it could be “inserted” into the “narrative” would have come later, as would the explanation of the “loss of ship and crew” on the return voyage.

    So for at least a laugh, google “Kubrick fake moon landing” and hear the story of how Kubrick lent his set from 2001 as a return favor for being granted access to the Pentagon for “Strangelove”. Watch the “outtakes”. You won’t be disappointed.

  9. MuleHeadJoe says:

    I am continually aghast at people who look at these amorphous black-n-white / grey-scale blobs (or pixelated squares as may be the case) and scream “you SEE!?!?!? that is CLEARLY a (name object under discussion here)!!!!!!” Face-on-Mars, anybody? The resolution I see in those pix above are absolutely NO better than the crap I see in the National Weekly News of the Enquiring World.

    I’m not a conspiracy buff (although I am open to how “conspiracy” seems to be the best way to describe the internal political process by which our gubmint took us to war in Iraq a decad ago), and so I usually cannot stand for people claiming to have proof of anything based on a loose interpretation of some vague evidence. The picture above *appears* to be a lunar landing sight, and that one little speck *might be* the flag’s shadow. However, with the current resolution in that specific photograph, it is an absolute 100% factual impossiblity to state beyond doubt that what it might be, actually is.

    This is what I personally hate about so many “scientists” (especially those on TV [*cough* Discovery Channel, TLC, History Channel *cough*])… instead of saying “this is scientifically valid evidence to support the idea that XXXXX” they say “this is that!” with so much certainty that it makes me sick. “Scientists” do NOT know what dinosaurs looked like, smelled like, sounded like. These things can be theorized and evidence can be found and promoted to support certain notions. However, claiming certitude is in fact NOT scientific. Kinda like why religiosity is NOT scientific — claiming certitude based on limited evidence.

    Well, thems my two cents at least.

  10. Yehouda Harpaz says:

    Just to support MuleHeadJoe above.

    While I have no doubt that the landing on the moon actually happened, the picture above is clearly not evidence for it by any kind of measurement, because it can easily be a made up by some other way.

    The issue of what is valid evidence needs to be taken more seriously than that.

Leave a Reply