Debunking Astronomy Myths #1 – Why the Moon Landings Were Not A Hoax

There are a surprising number of people that still believe the Moon landings were faked. I suppose it’s understandable given all the anti-NASA conspiracies out there, so I thought I’d compile a few answers to the most common ‘proofs’ put forward to support the Moon landing hoax. There are many of these proofs, but I’ll concentrate on the following:

-The astronauts would die due to radiation on the journey there

-There are no stars in the photographs taken on the Moon

-The USA flag is waving despite there being no wind on the Moon

-Some of the photographs appear faked, such as objects being behind cross-hairs

-The temperature on the Moon would kill the astronauts

Firstly, let me put forward a piece of evidence that supports, no proves, that we went to the Moon, just so everyone can be in the same frame of mind here. Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are most famous for leaving their footprints on the Moon, but they also left behind something of far greater use- a 2ft panel made of 100 mirrors pointing towards Earth – the “lunar laser ranging retroreflector array.” This is important in proving they were both on the Moon at the time of leaving this device, because if they were in a studio the following experiment would not be possible.

A laser pulse shot out of a telescope on Earth hits the mirror array sending the pulse straight back to where it came from. Back on Earth, telescopes intercept the returning pulse and from this the distance to the moon (using the speed of light and the time taken) can be calculated to a very precise number.

Astronomers use this method often, and as a student of astrophysics I can tell readers now that they are under no government conspiracy, Illuminati scheme, or any other colourful ‘Dan Brown’ style plot. They are just scientists doing their research. Without the mirrors physically being on the Moon they would not be able to carry such an experiment out.

Radiation Would Have Killed The Astronauts

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the first of the ‘proofs’ on the list. Many conspiracy theorists point out that to get to the Moon, Apollo astronauts would have to cross the so called Van Allen radiation belts. These zones of radiation are due to the particles from the Sun’s solar wind being trapped by the Earth’s magnetic field. They range from about 375 miles from the Earth, to around 40 000 miles at its maximum distance. According to conspiracy theorists, any humans traveling through this belt would be exposed to lethal radiation. While this is true, it is also true that NASA was aware of this. All equipment used on the spacecraft was hardened against this, and in addition to this, the craft was set on a trajectory that exposed the astronauts to the least possible radiation through the belts. Once through the belts, contrary to popular belief, the radiation levels actually drop.

The astronauts, by the end of their journey, did indeed receive more radiation than the average person on Earth, but the point remains that NASA had considered the risk, took protective measures, and the astronauts came home fine. Interestingly the astronauts themselves are proof of the journey, as many of the astronauts have developed cataracts due to radiation penetrating their eyes causing ‘blinding flashes.’

There Are No Stars In The Lunar Photographs

Now let’s take a look at the second of our ‘proofs’ on the list. No stars in the photographs. Conspiracy theorist point out that the sky is black in the photographs therefore there should at least be a few stars in the sky, right?

Wrong. The answer to this question, unlike many others, is very simple, and only requires a little thought and common sense (which conspiracy theorists seem to lack). It is also one of the few aspects that we can apply everyday knowledge to disprove.

Imagine you are with a friend, at dusk, or even full dark and you want to take a picture of them. Suppose you are standing next to a fire or lamp which is illuminating your friend. The camera will need to be exposed for the fire and your illuminated friend. Therefore anyone who knows anything about cameras will tell you that to take a picture of a bright object, you need a short exposure time so that the object isn’t overexposed and burnt out. A short exposure time means one thing- no stars. As any astrophotographer knows, to capture star light you need extremely long exposure times, often many minutes long (or if you want to capture galaxies it can often be hours long). Compare this to common daylight exposures of around 1/50th of a second, and you can see that any image taken on a camera that exposes for a bright object (such as our fire) will leave stars far too underexposed to be seen.

Now apply this to the Apollo astronauts. There is no atmosphere on the Moon, therefore there is no ‘daytime’ as we know it to be, no blue sky due to nitrogen in the atmosphere as is the Earth’s case. There is of course an illuminated and dark side of the Moon (though there is not a permanent dark side, however this is another astronomy myth that will be dealt with at a different time). When the Apollo astronauts landed it was early in the morning on the Moon. The sun was illuminating not just the astronauts, but also the Moon’s surface, causing very bright exposures, and thus short exposure times.

Therefore there are no stars in the shots because the shots are exposed for the lunar surface and astronauts.

The USA Flag Appears To Be Moving In A Wind That Shouldn’t Be There

This is an old classic. Apparently the USA flag can be seen to be waving in a non-existent lunar breeze. This is of course untrue. The flag was mounted on a pole with a horizontal support to keep it out straight because of the airless atmosphere. As the astronauts unfolded and planted the flag, the flag waved under its own momentum.

Some Of The Photographs Appear Faked, Such As Objects Being Behind Cross-hairs

Another favorite theory is that the pictures taken by the astronauts appear faked. Many of them for example have objects in front of the cross-hairs pointing to a studio set. This is again untrue, and can once again be disproved by a bit of technical photography.

Looking at these ‘suspect’ images, it can be seen that the objects in question are all white. It is over exposure of these white objects on the film that is causing them to ‘bleed’ over the cross hair, in other words the camera hasn’t got the dynamic range to show the difference between dark and light correctly, therefore the cross-hairs appear to be behind the objects.

There are two other reasons to disprove this idea that are worth stating. Firstly the photographs of the Moon landings have been copied a lot over the years- this leads to loss of quality, and second, why exactly would the ‘studio crew’ go to the trouble of placing cross-hairs on the set. It would take a very incompetent conspirator indeed to make a mistake so obvious.

The Temperature On The Moon Would Kill The Astronauts

According to conspiracy theorists, the daytime temperature on the Moon would have fried the astronauts. Therefore they cannot have landed on the Moon in daytime and have lived to talk about it.

This theory can be disproved in a couple of ways. Firstly the timings of the missions were planned so that the landings were made in dawn, giving enough time before the radiation heated up the surface. Remember that there is no atmosphere on the Moon, so no heat is trapped unlike on Earth. Also remember that the day/night cycle on the Moon is around a month long- we’re not talking 24 hours here. Secondly the astronauts wear suits for a reason, to protect them from harmful conditions. The suits regulated their temperature with a water cooling system.


Those were just a few answers to the commonly put forward proofs by conspiracy theorists, though there are many more. For those who are interested in hearing a few more, or would like a more in depth analysis of those I have discussed, I would recommend reading Bad Astronomy by Phil Plait.


SOURCES: ‘Bad Astronomy’, Phil Plait


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