Friday, August 21, 2015

Junk Science: Astronomy is a Conspiracy!

Normally I get a bit peeved when I run into junk science. That's because I tend to prefer sources that are at least accredited, even if they are not competent. And it's the accredited sources that I get most peeved at.

I always have a softer spot for amateur scientists, and am most lenient about any religious theories from people who are plainly non-scientists. From a scientific perspective, these fall into my "mostly harmless" bucket.

Occasionally, though, I run into somebody who's just too entertaining for words... whose "theories" are so completely defective that they're "not even wrong". The entertainment factor completely outshines the excremental science. And it becomes the most entertaining when said amateur is educated in great detail about everything except the basic foundation of the discipline he aspires to study.

And while I'm tempted to just start throwing ad hominems around as I might with a highly educated professional, I'm inclined not to do that here, for the same reason that you don't shout names at the children who are waiting for the short bus. (Except for that one there.)

Today's target for discussion is a gentleman who goes by the handle of Crrow777 on YouTube, who started posting about a year ago, and whose site I learned of from the Exposing Pseudoastronomy blog of Stuart Robbins. And while Crrow777 styles himself as a researcher, he's so obviously not -- and by this I mean that he's an armchair adventurer in the mold of Caracticus Potts -- that I'm giving him the amateur pass (and that's the last one for now).

Oh, and while I'm thinking about it... I have been asked why I don't do a lot more debunking. There are two basic reasons: 1. As it's sometimes quite tedious and painful to watch someone be so astonishingly wrong, I literally have more interesting things to do; and 2. there are so many other people doing it that I don't have to. A lot of the things that I would debunk have been by sites such as Exposing Pseudoastronomy


Crrow777 has some interesting views to say the least. Robbins was responding to Crrow777's contention that there is no New Horizons spacecraft near Pluto and all the images of Pluto and its moons are fake. I'll let you read up on it there.

Suffice to say that Robbins points out the very basic math errors that Crrow777 makes in his assertions. This is pretty typical of all of his "theories", including this showpiece:

Not only is the Moon a hologram, but it's not a sphere, according to Crrow777.

That's even though we can see mountains an shadows and foreshortening with a telescope.

That's even though we plainly see the libration (wobble) of the spherical Moon.

That's even though humans and robot spacecraft have flown around and landed on the thing. (Of course, Crrow777 is a Moon Landing Hoaxer who thinks the landings never happened.)

That's even though it exerts the gravitational tugs that contribute most to the tides.

That's even though it is lit precisely as it should be if it were a spherical, rocky astronomical body in orbit around the Earth and lit by the distant Sun.

Crrow777 has a far more compelling (to him) theory: that the Moon is a hologram (as he puts it, "for lack of a better term", whatever that may mean. Until he comes up with a better term we'll use "hologram" to mean hologram). He bases this in part on accepting as credible sources pretty much anyone except a credible source [1]. For instance, ancient references that report a "star" passing in front of the Moon should present an opportunity to ask whether it was actually a star and question what legitimately interesting phenomenon the person may have been observing... but Crrow777 takes it as evidence that the Moon is translucent (at least sometimes), although the chance is infinitesimal that you will personally catch starlight streaming through it. With a strong pair of binoculars you can see for yourself that the Moon is still dimly lit by reflected Earthlight and quite solid even on the "dark side". It would seem obvious that we should ask whether a light near the Moon might be refracted or simply reported to be closer than it actually was. Crrow777, however, preferentially accepts anecdotes, even from Victorian era Flat Earthers.


Figure 1: A Sphere
The one really solidly correct thing he says is to not believe him at face value, and to check everything out yourself. That's sound advice, so let's begin by doing that on one of those odd claims that he seems to think is so compelling. Now, remember, as you look at the Moon (refresh your memory on the video above), the day/night terminator is curved, denoting a spherical surface. However, Crrow777 has claimed that it can't be a sphere because it's improperly lit. If the full Moon were a sphere, he claims, there would be a "dropping off" of intensity toward the edges.  It should look like Figure 1.

However, he seems to have overlooked a thing or two about why the spheres he's familiar with look like that, and some ways in which the Moon differs, and also that straightforward observations refute his claims.

First up is his assertion that there is no dimming at the Moon's edges. This is refuted by looking at the Moon. There is dimming at the Moon's terminator, and you can see it for yourself in the video above. This is mostly caused by the angle of incidence of the sun's rays striking the curved surface of the Moon. Fewer rays strike the oblique surface, and it appears dimmer. This is most obvious when we can see the gradation at a half-Moon. Look again at the "Moon wobble" video.

But it's not as pronounced at a full Moon for several reasons. One is the inverse-square law: the closer something is to the source of illumination, the brighter it will be, and this varies inversely with the square of the distance. Something twice as far away will be 1/4th as bright. Assuming it is fully lit, the center of the apparent disk is closer, therefore brighter. However, this becomes less pronounced the farther your sphere is from the light source. A moment's reflection (no pun intended) should tell you why.

If your light source is very close, as in our model, then the difference between the apparent center and edges of the sphere are very pronounced, expressed as percentages. The edge is relatively much farther from the source than the center. Furthermore, as the light spreads out from the source of illumination, it strikes the sphere at a sharp angle on the apparent edge. Less light is striking the surface there, and we see it as dimmer. The sphere in Figure 1 is lit by a bright source of light that is very close... only a few diameters from the sphere.

Figure 2: Mars as seen through
the Hubble Space Telescope
Note it's apparent flatness
However, the Moon is lit by the Sun, and it's very far away. The difference in distance is extremely slight between the closest and farthest points of the Moon's hemisphere facing the Sun. When we look at other solid bodies that are far from the Sun, such as Mars or Earth itself, then we see that they look much "flatter". See Figure 2. The proximity to the illumination is pretty much eliminated as a cause of the dimming.

This leaves the angle of incidence as the primary reason for the dimming, and this is what we notice when the Moon is lit from one side. It's a different story, though, when the Moon is full. When the Moon is directly opposite the Sun, such as during a full Moon, its albedo (brightness) increases greatly. There are two more factors at play:

Coherent backscatter is a phenomenon in which coherent light shining into a diffuse substance preferentially reflects back the way it came. The Moon has practically no atmosphere to scatter the light; however, the Moon is covered in a great deal of fine dust which comprises just such a diffuse substance. Though sunlight isn't truly coherent (in the sense of a laser), it is so far away and so large that we can treat its parallel rays as such. Sunlight is preferentially reflected back the way it came, and since we're between the Sun and Moon, that means that a full Moon looks brighter than usual, even at the edges. The sunlight at the edges is spread over a greater area, yes, but so much is reflected directly back that we see it at near-full intensity.

This brightening is also partly due to shadow hiding, in which the shadows are there, but we don't see them because they are all hidden behind the objects that are reflecting the Sun's rays directly back at us. Thus, most of the visible surface is brightly illuminated rather than being mottled with shadows. If you want to look into the phenomenon further, check your favorite references for the terms albedo, coherent backscatter, and Seeliger effect.

In short, the Moon  is illuminated exactly as it would be if it were an actual rocky body orbiting the Earth and Sun.


Crrow777's flagship argument is that there is video of a "lunar wave" that washes across the surface of the Moon, looking not unlike the sort of distortion that can wash across an old VHS videotape. This is much like the video effects added to the Emperor's holograms in the Star Wars movies. The phenomenon is not "in camera", and therefore the Moon is some sort of technological projection.

Not Photoshopped.
Image by Christiaan Triebert (cc-by)

While I'd like to praise this as some sort of "out of the box" thinking, it's precisely the opposite. People are so accustomed to technology and computers that we are, more and more, witnessing them jumping to technology based conclusions. These leaps of faith jump right over the correct naturalistic explanations and into the comfortable box of their everyday techno-coddled experience. We see this sort of thing often in forums where "PHOTOSHOPPED!" is the knee-jerk reaction to even genuinely extraordinary photos. In this case it appears that Crrow777 is assigning this comfortable modern worldview to ages in which it never existed.

Crrow777 is correct in stating that the "lunar wave"effect is not produced in the camera. But he errs in failing to account for the whole of the environment. He has no "control".

In science, it's pretty sloppy to say that we're "observing the Moon" when we're making detailed observations. Rather, we are observing sunlight reflected from the Moon, across space, through the atmosphere, into our equipment. We must therefore account for the Sun, the light, the Moon, the atmosphere, and the equipment. Unfortunately, Crrow777 makes such a big deal over the equipment and jumped directly from that to unwarranted conclusions about the Moon that he forgot to adequately control for the atmosphere. And that's where the explanation for the "lunar wave" lies.

Figure 3: A distorted moonrise due to atmospheric refraction
Again, it's simple middle-school physics and optics. When light passes from a material of one density into one of a different density, it is refracted. That's how prisms and eyeglasses work. The light is bent at the boundaries of air and glass.

It's the same when that light passes through layers of air having different densities. Figure 3 shows an egregious example of a moonrise through layers of the atmosphere. You may see these described as temperature layers. Temperature, pressure, and density are all interconnected, but it's the density that is of interest optically.

Now, these do not only occur on the horizon. Such boundaries between high- and low-density air are so commonplace that we track them on weather maps and report them on the morning news. We call the major ones "fronts", and they signal changing weather. However, any pressure wave will produce the effect. It can be a natural source or an artificial source such as a jet wake. I think you can fairly easily reproduce a similar effect in your own basement with a simple heat gun of the sort used to remove wallpaper, a camera, and a picture of the Moon.

In short, the "lunar wave" looks just like it would if it were created by a pressure wave moving between the Moon and the camera.


One other matter remains. Crrow777 has posted a video "proving" that the effect of the "lunar wave" is a phenomenon limited to the Moon itself, and not to the atmosphere. He attempts to do this by blocking out the bright central image and concentrating on the edges of the video. Sadly, this technique proves nothing.

Pressure waves aren't visible except in the direct line of a bright source of illumination. This is because the refraction is pretty slight. At a great distance it will not refract the available light enough to be visible. Move more than a small fraction of an arc away and the pressure wave becomes undetectable. The only thing shown on the edges of Crrow777's video is the electronic noise produced by the camera itself. It's unsurprising that the effect isn't seen there. It is, rather, as expected.

There's a YouTube user, dazzathecameraman,  who has published a number of videos "debunking" Crrow's "lunar wave". In the off-chance that you, dear Reader, are of a similar mindset as the unconvinced commenters of those videos, let me spell it out:

It is not the intention of Dazza to reproduce the phenomenon in these videos (and we'll talk about burden of proof in a moment). Rather, they exist to address Crrow77's claims by providing a controlled test of each claim. In one, the type of distortion is shown. In another, the fact that it is normal for a pressure wave to remain undetectable except when very close to the source is shown. In this second video a known source of distortion is used as a control, as we know that the pressure waves of the jet exhaust extend beyond where it's detectable by a camera. Remember, Crrow777 claims that the "lunar wave" cannot extend beyond the Moon. This is proven false.

In short, a pressure wave is not detectable by camera unless in close proximity to a light source, so the results of Crrow777's experiment prove nothing.


Note that it is not the job of a critic to prove that the Moon is not a hologram. Nor is it their job to reproduce the phenomenon. It is clearly the job of the theorist to show that no other explanation is more credible, and he's required to do his own homework. He has to eliminate not just commonplace and well known natural phenomena, but also any known phenomena that might be rare, but are known to occur. He must, in short, leave his speculation of a centuries-old high-tech holographic construct as the best remaining explanation. This is called the burden of proof, and Crrow777 clearly fails to meet it here.

Crrow777's videos are useful, though, as a cautionary example of what happens when you start building complicated theories without first understanding the basics. When we say that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, it is almost always because they are at odds with these basics, and must explain away far more than just atmospheric diffraction (the source of his "lunar wave") and technological camera glitches like rolling shutters and digital buffering. Those things are relatively easy to detect. But when you ignore, misunderstand, or require a revision of the basic behavior of light, you've got a LOT of 'splainin' to do, Lucy.

If you're not into basic physics, there are still a number of questions you might want to ask of someone who thinks the Moon is a hologram, such as:
  • Why does the Moon look exactly like a natural moon? 
  • Why is it illuminated exactly like a natural moon in all respects? 
  • If you don't agree that it is illuminated like a natural moon in all respects, then how do you falsify that claim? In other words, where is a credible example that controls and eliminates all well-understood natural explanations?
  • If it's a translucent hologram as claimed (through which light as faint as starlight is transmitted), how does the New Moon occlude the much brighter sunlight and cause eclipses? 
  • Why is its motion precisely in sync with the tides?
  • What produces its gravity if not an actual lunar mass?
  • Why are we not able to reproduce any instance of starlight shining through the Moon as reported (i.e. are these credible reports)?
And while the following aren't necessary to show that it is a hologram, they do speak directly to the credibility of the supposition. Even if the holographic hypothesis is every bit as explanatory as "it's a moon", then these are questions that must be addressed to make the holographic hypothesis more credible than a natural one:
  • Do we know of any civilization or species possessed of the ability and the motive to put it there? 
  • If it didn't exist in historical times, where is the record of its appearance?  Surely it was an event of supreme significance to all civilizations.
  • What is known to be capable of powering such technology over the many centuries? The conventional explanation is that it is "powered" entirely by gravity associated with an actual rocky mass, and that all of its light is reflected sunlight, not generated. Thus far both of which fully explain our observations. Why is further technology needed?
Bottom line: despite Crrow777's fanciful suppositions, the Moon is illuminated exactly as it should be if it were a rocky body in orbit around the Earth and a distant Sun. It possesses the gravity of such a body, It blocks sunlight as we expect of such a body. We have sent astronauts and robots to actually orbit it and land upon it.

We can therefore employ Occam's razor and conclude that the best available explanation is that the Moon is exactly what mainstream astronomers claim it is. The Moon is the Moon... a rocky body orbiting the Earth, and not a technological construct such as a hologram.

Nevertheless, the audacity of Crrow777's claims and the mental gymnastics he performs in his "proofs" are vastly entertaining, at least to me. I have on occasion said that not all opinions are created equal; science exists to enable us to sort out the good ones from the bad.

And this is the point where I have to just roll up my sleeves and treat this guy honestly, without the fake respect (which was clearly for you, dear Reader). This guy is not a scientist. He rejects science and is vocal about his rejection of it. Yet he finds it necessary to insist that his sloppy, shoddy work is proper application of the scientific method. He's a conspiracy theorist who believes that everything up to and including the Dreamworks film intro is an encoded message from our secret masters. He doesn't really articulate a good reason why the conspirators would go around encoding secret messages in pure fiction and then putting them in plain sight, but that doesn't stop him from believing that they do. He quotes Flat Earth dogma over a hundred years old as evidence that the Moon is translucent. Meanwhile, he thinks that all the information, photos, data, collected by all space researchers is a pack of lies. He specifies NASA, but this must necessarily include the European Space Agency, the Russian Federal Space Agency, the preceding Soviet space program, that of the Chinese, that of India (which is currently conducting a successful Mars orbiter mission) in a vast worldwide conspiracy to hoodwink and bamboozle you into believing that we have a rock in orbit. He believes that all of this information, including an elaborate fake Moon actually hanging in the sky for the last several thousand years, is "part of the control system under which we live." This "control system", he claims, is hidden in plain sight right there in the sky behind that fake Moon. And of course, HE is the genius who has sussed this all out, yadda, yadda, yadda. I'm not a psychiatrist. I'm not an ornithologist, either, but I do know a loon when I hear one.

(and THAT is the last ad hominem in this post, I swear!)

[1] Among the sources cited by Crrow777 is Samuel Rowbotham, aka Parallax, who in 1864 did indeed publish the claim that the Moon is a translucent crystalline substance (read it here). He also claimed that the Earth is flat, that the North Pole is at the center of the Earth disc, and that the Earth is encircled by a wall of ice; and that the stars are only three thousand miles away. Perhaps Crrow777 wasn't completely forthcoming with the reason for Dr. Rowbotham's defamation.

All of the classical sources listed in the link have been cited by others. They are collected here on a page called "The Earth Without the Moon", which is precisely the reference used by Crrow777 in "A Time Before The Moon - How Did The Moon Get Here?". Despite his attempt to sound off-the-cuff, he certainly did not do any of that research himself. We know this because of the uniquely inaccurate translations that he repeats. They are distinct and act as a "fingerprint".

For instance, Psalm 72:5 is quoted as  “Thou wast feared since [the time of] the sun and before [the time of] the moon, a generation of generations.” That is not was the verse says, as you can see for yourself by picking up a Bible or going to a free site like BibleGateway or BibleHub, which is where Google will route you if you just type in a verse. Say what you want about Christians, they do NOT make Bible research hard. Psalm 72:5 actually reads, "They shall fear thee while the sun endureth, and so long as the moon, throughout all generations." -- KJV, but feel free to click through and check it against any other translation, or the Hebrew itself.
Job 25:5 is mis-quoted as follows: "In Job 25:5 the grandeur of the Lord who “Makes peace in the heights” is praised and the time is mentioned “before [there was] a moon and it did not shine.”" Again, that's not what it says. The author is saying that in God's eyes even the moon has no brightness, so how can a man be worthy? Again, click through and check any translation you like. No "time before the moon" is mentioned. 

As for all of those ancient Greek authors who supposedly reference "Proselenes", I happen to have all of the extant works of Aristotle in digital form, but a search came up empty. A search for "moon" found quite a lot, but nothing relating to Proselenes. So I went to the New Agers' references... try it yourself. Search Google for "Aristotle" and "Proselene". You'd think you'd get at least one prominent link to Aristotle mentioning Proselenes. Instead you get page after page of New Agers all referencing each other. But they do all eventually point to the same reference, which is the same one alluded to by Crrow777 above:
Aristotle, fr. 591 (ed. V. Rose [Teubner:Tuebingen, 1886] ). Cf. Pauly’s Realencyclopaedie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, article “Mond” ; H. Roscher, Lexicon d. griech. und roemisch. Mythologie, article “Proselenes.” 
As German is one of the languages I read, I figured this was the jackpot... I'd look it up in Roscher's Lexicon of Greek and Roman Mythology, and it would point me to the proper passage in Aristotle as promised. So I tracked down a copy of the original in the Internet Archive. Do you know what it says on page 3138?
That Proselenos was the proper name of a king of the Arcadians, and they became known as Proselenes after him.
Get it? NOT because they came before the Moon, but after this famous king, who quite frankly could have had that name bestowed upon him simply because he was born before a full or new moon. To put this in perspective, to this day we call that big country between Mongolia and Japan "China" after the emperor Qin (Chin), not because they make good pottery. Yeah. It's just like that.

As for the other references, they mention the Arcadians, who were a real people, but they're not mentioned in the context of existing prior to the Moon. You're just supposed to take it for granted that because they mention Arcadia that they are passing on the legend that someone presumed by inappropriately breaking down a proper name. It's a bit like saying that anyone who mentions England is passing on the legend of King Arthur as fact. And all this noise and nonsense came from people never once bothering to check an obscure reference in a foreign language. 

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