Sunday, July 31, 2016

"Ancient Aliens" continues its mission to misinform the public

        The TV series Ancient Aliens continued the [Pseudo-]History Channel's self-appointed mission to get things wrong and point the camera at people who know nothing at all about the topic at hand, in S11E11: Space Station Moon aired just a few days ago. I mean, WTF qualifies George Noory or David Wilcock to talk to us about the Moon, per-lease? At least Mike Bara can claim that he's an expert because he's written a book about the Moon. You know and I know that the book was junk, but the audience and the producers of this travesty maybe don't. As usual, the production values were top class -- well shot and edited, fine audio mix etc.

        However, the first howler (and it was a DOOZY) came, not from a know-nothing like Noory or Wilcock, or even Hatcher Childress, but apparently from the lips of another Moon-book author, Rick Stroud of The Book of the Moon. It was this:

06:01note 1 "The reason the Moon has phases is that the Earth blocks the light of the Sun as the Moon moves around the Earth."

        I wrote "apparently" back there because they cut away to animation during this statement, so it's possible that some bozo of an editor made Stroud seem to say what he never actually said. The real reason the Moon has phases, of course, is that the angle formed by the Earth-Moon-Sun system varies from 0° to 360° over the month. The reason we don't see eclipses every month is that the plane of the Moon's orbit only occasionally aligns with the ecliptic. I think most 6th grade school students know that. Considering the number of times this show would have been reviewed -- first by the editor and director, then by editor, director and producer, then a full-dress affair crowded with execs and hangers-on -- it's totally gob-smacking that nobody said "Hang on a minute, chaps...."

        Around the 08:40 mark we got into the classic falsehood that Armstrong and Aldrin saw flying saucers and were "warned off." I wrote about this earlier in July. Heaven be praised, they didn't actually use that ridiculous pseudo-quote "Their ships were far superior to ours" -- but Michael Salla spoke of a mysterious two-minute gap in the air-to-ground dialog on Apollo 11, and the fantasist David Hatcher Childress said "the astronauts talked about seeing extraterrestrial objects on the Moon." No they didn't, David old son. It's in your imagination. Then it was over to Mike Bara again:

09:27 "Now the truth is that each of the astronauts had a separate medical channel. That channel was not public and it could have been very easily used to communicate information that you didn't want to be heard by the general public transmissions."

        That's not the truth, Mike -- it's the UNtruth. There was no such thing as a "separate medical channel." The astronauts could request private consultations but those were fed over the exact same S-band link as the rest of the air-to-ground. The difference is that they were not released to the Press. James Oberg has covered this very well, citingnote 2 his interview  with Terry White and Charles Redmond in 1980:

White: Occasionally we would configure for private medical or family conversations. There was no special frequency or code, we'd just have the rest of the consoles get disconnected at the communications center.
Redmond: The medical conversations were not recorded, and were not released -- although we would summarize them in press conferences. There's something in the Hippocratic Oath about a doctor having to maintain confidentiality with his patients.
Question: How often did this happen?
Redmond: During Apollo, quite infrequently. During Skylab, we'd have such a talk maybe every three days or so.
Question: So there was no special code or secret channel?
Redmond: No, we used our ordinary channels, but the crew would request the doctor only -- the "flight surgeon" -- and the rest of us would disconnect.
White: Or else the crew could talk privately to their families in a back room down the hall from the control room.
Question: Outside of these confidential talks with doctors, wives, and children, were there any other conversations not publicly available?
Redmond: No, I don't think so, I don't see how they could have managed it.

What if...?
       Shortly there follows a fairly classy two- or three-minute segment explaining how very different Earth would be without the Moon -- without the ocean tides it creates, and without its braking effect on the Earth's rotation. Perhaps, the script muses, life itself would never have arisen if it had not been for the Moon. For once they got something right.

        Then it's back to the familiar misinfo, as Bara says it's very mysterious that almost all craters on the Moon are the same depth (they aren't,) and Giorgio Tsoukalos says it "doesn't make sense" that the floors of craters are concave [See Update] (yes, Giorgio, of course it does.) This is all leading up to the hollow Moon theory, which this blog covered in January 2015. Hilariously inappropriate words like "an alien spaceship," "a thriving extraterrestrial community" trigger lavish and totally imaginary animations of the Moon inhabited by aliens. George Noory wraps up this segment by calling it a "Death Star." The whole segment is an exercise in simply "making things up."
 credit: Prometheus Entertainment

        I ask the question I always ask faced with these fantasies -- "Where are the solar arrays the aliens would undoubtedly need as an energy source to power their Death Star?"

1202 alarm
        Having flogged that horse to death, the script now turns to the question of observed artificial structures on the Moon. Richard Hoagland must have had a fit if he watched this, because they used none of his material about glass skyscrapers and fairy castles at all. Instead, they focused on some "spires" in the Sea of Tranquility that they say were captured by Lunar Orbiter 2 in 1966 (but see comments from OneBigMonkey below -- the image is not from Orbiter 2 and it's not in the Sea of Tranquility but 1400 km away near Tycho.)

credit: Prometheus Entertainment

        Naturally, nobody thought of examining the far better and more modern  images from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to check these things -- or perhaps they thought of it but didn't want to spoil a good yarn. It gave Mike Bara a chance to botch a famous story.

34:11 "On Apollo 11, when the astronauts were descending to the lunar surface, they got this very strange computer alarm ..[SOF].. the famous 1202 computer alarm that basically nobody knew what it was. What it came out to was that the computer itself was overwhelmed with information, because Buzz Aldrin, the Lunar Module Pilot, had turned on the radars on the lunar lander. They had two radars -- they had a side-looking radar and they had a docking radar. [So] you had one pointed down, and one pointed to the side. Now, if there's nothing on the surface of the Moon, if there are no artificial structures , if there are no spires sticking 10-20 storeys up in the sky, why would you turn on the side radar? There's no reason to but Aldrin did it, and I think it's because he knew, and NASA knew, that there was some danger of running into these things."note 3

       He gets the story partly right. The two radar systems were in fact the rendezvous radar and the landing radar. Space mythology often holds that Aldrin left the rendezvous radar on by mistake, but in fact it was more subtle than that. The rendezvous radar was on as planned, in case of a landing abort, but it should have been configured so that the computer didn't waste time interrogating it for data that obviously wasn't there. Peter Adler tells the tale here, and a highly technical explanation is here. Nothing to do with "spires" (which are actually large rocks in crater Tycho similar to the Blair cuspids -- thank you OneBigMonkey -- a long way from the Apollo 11 site.) As for "nobody knew what it was" -- the whole point is that they did know what it was and correctly recommended that the landing could go ahead.

        In the course of wrapping this up they come up with the childish fallacy "the dark side of the Moon" and the utter nonsense that Wernher Von Braun was the Head of NASA in the sixties (his highest position was actually Deputy Associate Administrator for Planning.) All in all, this was a classic comedy of errors, on a par with "Viking 1 Landed at Cydonia" (S6E16) and "The only launch pad at White Sands missile range is pad 33" (S4E5). But of course, we've long since ceased to expect anything better from this ill-informed parade of popinjays.

I misheard. Tsoukalos said it doesn't make sense that crater floors are conVEX, not conCAVE. It's true that a few craters have this property -- a prime example is Hesiodus A. But it does make sense -- it happens when a deep impact crater is invaded with upwelling lava.
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[1] All quoted times are for the 42-minute version, with commercials excised.
[2] From Oberg's book UFOs and Outer Space Mysteries: A Sympathetic Skeptic's Report (1982)
[3] Considering that the whole purpose of the Lunar Orbiter program  was to scout landing sites, and that the requirements for the first landing were "safety safety safety," it's preposterous to suggest that they picked a site where there was a known hazard. Add that to the fact that the cuspids were miles away, and weren't spires or obelisks anyway, and Mike Bara stands guilty of yet another colossal fabrication.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

40 Years of the Face on Mars

        We seem to be doing anniversaries right now. When a newspaper column or a TV show falls back on anniversaries, it's a sign that the editors and producers can't come up with anything better. That's very likely true of blogs, too. My favorite targets haven't been very blogworthy lately. Richard Hoagland is doing his 5-nights-a-week radio chat shownote 1 (although replays and glitches seem to be making it more like 3-nights-a-week) -- Mike Bara is prowling the bars of Santa Monica in search of wife #2 and tweeting hate against muslims (weirdly, apostrophizing the word) -- Robert Morningstar is totally wrapped up in politics and will probably stay that way until after the election. Kerry Cassidy is off in Europe spending her fans' money and not contributing much to pseudoscience except to write of the Bastille Day massacre in Nice "The signs are clear.  False Flag."note 2. (WHAT signs Kerry?)

        So fine, we'll do anniversaries. 40 years ago today the press on the NASA beat were shown the image that launched a thousand theories.

credit: NASA/JPL

        The image was actually acquired the previous day, 25 July 1976, from a range of 1873 kilometers (1162 miles).note 3 note 4 The Viking 1 orbiter was still in its site certification orbit, 1513 x 33,000 km. The image was designated 035A72, meaning the 72nd image taken on the 35th orbit.The resolution of the image was 48 m/px at the center. A second Viking image (070A13) was acquired on 30 July, 35 orbits later, with slighly improved resolution (44.7 m/px.)note 5. Viking Orbiters acquired sixteen more images of "Owen Mesa" but at much poorer resolutionsnote 6.

        It was not to be until 5 April 1998 that the next image was acquired, by Mars Global Surveyor, and it was a massive disappointment. Even contrast-enhanced, it looked like this:

credit: MSSS

        When Malin Space Science specialists used every enhancement trick they knew, they came up with this:

credit: MSSS

        The resolution of that image is 4.3 m/px -- almost exactly ten times better than the best Viking shot. The problem was that haze and dust covered the area.note 7. The above image was notoriously dubbed "a catbox" by Art Bell during discussion with Richard Hoagland on Coast to Coast AM. I heard that show and I'll never forget Hoagland making an utter fool of himself by yelling "Somebody stole six gray levels!"

        However, a better enhancement was carried out by Tim Parker of JPLnote 8, and that became the Astronomy Picture OTD on 7 April.

        MGS went off and did real science for three years, but on 8 April 2001 another opportunity to shoot Owen Mesa arose, this time in clear conditions and from directly overhead. Hooray! With a lower orbit, the resolution improved to 1.56 m/px.


A full resolution version (5.3 MB) can be viewed here.

        Next up was the ESA's Mars Express. Initially frustrated by the same appalling weather as had bedeviled MGS, on 22 July 2006, during orbit #3253, the High Resolution Stereo Camera acquired enough color images at a resolution of 13.7 m/px for a 3-D compilation to be made.note 9. An animation was even released.

credit: ESA

        Until men land on Mars and explore, we're unlikely to see a better image than this one, acquired on 5 April 2007 by the HiRISE telescope on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter at a range of 300 km.note 10. Its resolution is 25 cm/px -- the size of a small dinner plate. Click to see the real thing.

credit: MSSS/JPL/Univ. Ariz.

        So, to sum up, we've gone from a resolution of 44.7 m/px to 0.25 m/px in these steps:

Viking 1976: 44.7
Mars Global Surveyor 1998: 4.3 but fogged
Mars Global Surveyor 2001: 1.56
Mars Express 2006: 13.7 color, stereo
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter 2007: 0.25

        If this were a purposefully created artifact, it stands to reason that as resolution improved we would see and appreciate more and more detail of the workmanship. In fact, the reverse has happened -- we get more and more convinced that Owen Mesa is... well, just a mesa.

[1] Speaking of anniversaries, July 21 was the first anniversary of Hoagland's show. My personal prediction that it would sink without trace before Thanksgiving was way off.
[2] Kerry's blog, 15 July 
[3] Viking Press Release   P-17384
[4] Data page on 035A72 
[5] Data page on 070A13
[6] Malin Space Science Systems page, 1995. I call the feature "Owen Mesa" in honor of Tobias Owen who first noticed it
[7] MSSS data page 
[8] JPL release  6 April 1998
[9] ESA release
[10] HiRISE data page

Monday, July 18, 2016

Happy birthday John Glenn, 95 today

In honor of the occasion, here's a look back at a blogpost from 21 February 2012:

        Richard C. Hoagland made a right ass of himself on Coast to Coast AM last night. Nothing unusual there, you may say. True, but this was a doozy.

        The proximate reason for booking this self-publicizing pseudo-scientist was the 50th anniversary of John Glenn's heroic Mercury mission, orbiting an American astronaut for the first time. Toward the end of hour 1, Hoagland made reference to Glenn's famous appearance on the Frasier comedy sitcom. Hoagland, hilariously, called Glenn's appearance a "scathing indictment of NASA," and proceeded to read Glenn's script as reprinted in Dark Mission p. 542 (2nd edn.)

"Back in those glory days, I was very uncomfortable when they asked us to say things we didn't want to say and deny other things. Some people asked ... "Were you alone out there?" We never gave the real answer, and yet we see things out there -- strange things -- but we know what we saw out there. And we couldn't really say anything. The bosses were really afraid of this, they were afraid  of the 'War of the Worlds'-type stuff, and about panic in the streets. So we had to keep quiet."
        Hoagland & Bara apparently believe this was an example of a NASA astronaut spilling the beans, revealing his true thoughts. Well, first off, it's quite true. Col. Glenn did say that. It was Frasier Season 8, Ep 184, first aired March 6, 2001. Frasier is A COMEDY SHOW. In case Hoagland or Bara is reading this, please let me explain the joke, because you obviously don't get it.

        The plot involved the character of Roz planning a radio show about space exploration. In a reversal of their usual roles, Roz is in charge, with Frasier merely booked to narrate the show. Neither of them adapts well to the work situation, and they clash repeatedly. Eventually Roz announces that Frasier is off the show, to be replaced by none other than John Glenn. Frasier, outraged, persists in interfering, and the argument escalates. Glenn sits down in the recording studio and begins the "improvised" monologue that Hoagland & Bara quoted. Glenn's monologue is actually intercut with scenes of Roz and Frasier still fighting and paying no attention to what their celebrity guest is saying.

        THE JOKE, Mr Hoagland and Mr Bara, IS THAT THE CHARACTERS ARE SO SELF-ABSORBED THAT THEY TOTALLY MISS SENSATIONAL MATERIAL. In fact they even hand over the recorded tape without having heard it. Just to be quite sure we understand this is a spoof, the producers added a laugh track throughout Glenn's monologue.

        Geddit? Geddit? Oh dear me, what clowns Hoagland & Bara are to be sure.....

Friday, July 8, 2016

Wrong Again, Mike Bara

Last night, as the unspeakably awful story from Dallas was unfolding, Mike Bara tweeted:
"Just gonna stay up until they tell us the Dallas snipers were Muslims"
Hope you've got plenty of coffee, Mike. In this case, prejudice is its own punishment.

From BBC News today:
"Micah Xavier Johnson, who was involved in the killing of five US police officers in Dallas before himself being killed by police, was a US army veteran who had served in Afghanistan.

The 25-year-old was a private who did a nine-month tour of duty from November 2013 after serving in the Army Reserve for six years, the US military said.

Johnson acted alone and had no known criminal history or ties to terror groups, authorities said."

Sunday, July 3, 2016

"Their ships were far superior to ours"

A certain professor, who wished to remain anonymous, was engaged in a discussion with Neil Armstrong during a NASA symposium.
Professor: What REALLY happened out there with Apollo 11?
Armstrong: It was incredible, of course we had always known there was a possibility, the fact is, we were warned off! (by the Aliens). There was never any question then of a space station or a moon city.
Professor: How do you mean "warned off"?
Armstrong: I can't go into details, except to say that their ships were far superior to ours both in size and technology. Boy, were they big! ... and menacing! No, there is no question of a space station.
Professor: But NASA had other missions after Apollo 11?
Armstrong: Naturally, NASA was committed at that time and couldn't risk panic on Earth. But it really was a quick scoop and back again.

        The above is a made-up fantasy. No conversation even remotely like it ever happened. Yesterday I was googling around, as you do, trying to pin down the origin of this piece of UFO flim-flam. I failed, because it's been taken up, believed, and re-posted by just about every crackpot and cock-and-bull UFOsite on the net.

Above Top Secret first re-posted it on 3 August 2015. OneBigMonkey, who also comments here, quite rightly called it a complete fabrication.
See also: >  Urban Legends > Questionable Quotes re-posted in Oct 2014.
UFOblogger 2009
circusbuoy  March 2015, UFO Casebook, The Alien Presence, Richard Dolan undated
Alien UFO Sightings attributed the quote to Buzz Aldrin, undated.

And that brings me to Linda Moulton Howe
        People who browse LMH's web presence, and/or who listen to her monthly reports on Coast-to-Coast AM, probably know that she is not a reliable source, notwithstanding her slew of awardsnote 1 for documentary television. Linda's problem is that she's gullible. Like Robert Morningstar, she'll believe anything that portrays NASA as a deceptive agency that tells lies. Like Robert Morningstar, she routinely ignores the heroism of the Apollo astronauts (managers and engineers, too, let's face it) in favor of daft rumors about "what really happened." These people are in love with the idea that they're in possession of arcane information that most people aren't aware of.

        So it wasn't much of a surprise, to me at least, when she resurrected this piece of dreck last Thursday night, attributing the quote to Buzz Aldrin in an interview for Atlantic Productions on 29 July 2015note 2. It's also on her web site, if you scroll far enough.

Update 8 July:
Linda has now removed it.

        She also re-tells the old, old story of the "UFO" that followed Apollo 11 on its trans-lunar trajectory (she refers to the S-IVB rocket stage incorrectly as the 1-SB.) She writes of Aldrin:
"Now, he’s come forward and said it was a light that got close enough. It had size and shape to it and followed them all the way to the moon! It was some kind of craft or something like that."
        Buzz Aldrin has done nothing of the sort.  He has always stated that the object was an SLA panelnote 3, and it was only visible for a short time, NOT all the way to the Moon.

        By sheer coincidence, I came across a wonderful picture yesterday.

Know what that is? Here's the official description:
"A unique view of the Apollo 13 CSLM: the center dot is the Apollo 13 Command/Service/Lunar Module (CSLM) as seen [from] Table Mountain through the 24-inch telescope. The four dots around the CSLM are the tumbling SLA panels. The diagonal jagged white lines crossing the picture from the lower left to the upper right are star trails during the 5 minute exposure. The actual exposure was taken by guiding on the distant S-IVB upper last stage spent rocket body of the Saturn V launch vehicle. This was very difficult, since the brightness of the S-IVB was extremely faint in the 1200X magnification guide eyepiece, thus the jagged star trailed images."
        So there you have it. SLA panels did indeed "follow" the CSLM for a while. Not surprisingly, since  they would have been given the exact same impetus by the Translunar Injection burn of the S-IVB. They would eventually diverge because of the very small additional thrust they would have had from the explosive bolts that detached them.

Does Linda Moulton Howe have any shame? I doubt it.

================/ \=============
[1] As a former TV documentary producer myself, I can let you in on a secret. We're ALL award-winners. It's really just a matter of filling out a form and entering your work for festival showings. You need to enclose a fat check, of course.

[2] Here she surely must be referring to Apollo 11: The Untold Story. This 60-min docco featured Aldrin, was produced by Atlantic, and aired on the Discovery Science Channel. However, that was 2006, not 2015.

[3] SLA = Spacecraft Lunar Module Adaptor. A semi-conical shroud that protected the LM during launch. Once en route to the Moon, it was discarded. The CSM then detached, turned around, and extracted the LM.