Explained: Why does this Apollo11 photo act so weirdly?

Samuel McHugh

New Member
I have seen a lot of conspiracy theorists claim that space exploration is fake, by turning up settings on images in manipulation programs to find squares around things, saying it proves the image is fake. I always dismissed this because I could never reproduce any of this. Well I tried it again on this Apollo 11 photo:

So I turned up the colour levels and to my surprise I got this:


There is so much evidence people DID go to the Moon and I personal have no doubt that it was real, but what is going on in this image??
Now maybe I'm being stupid and using and looking at an artist's rendition, which would explain it, but I don't know the origin of the photo so thought i'd ask
The simple answer is that this is a fake photo, but not one done by NASA or ever claimed to be real. The image of the Earth has been added, and the landscape extended to the left.

Note how the shadow of the LM abruptly stops at what was originally the left edge of the photo, and there are obvious cloned areas.


This is the original image, AS11-40-5868:


It can be seen on the Project Apollo Archive Flickr page here: https://flic.kr/p/y41AZ9

It's worth noting that the Earth is in totally the wrong place: it's much too low to the horizon, and also much too large. The actual Earth on these Hasselblad photos appeared like this:


(AS11-40-5923, from https://flic.kr/p/z1QJ8D)
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This is the highest resolution version of the faked image I can find using Tineye:


You can clearly see the pasted-on area with the Earth is a different colour.

I recognise the Earth image, too. It's not even from the correct mission! It comes from one the famous Apollo 8 "Earthrise" pictures, probably AS08-14-2383 (https://flic.kr/p/z5KK9F)


Note the cloud patterns and landmasses are identical, although the contrast and brightness have been boosted (the pasted image is rotated about 75 degrees clockwise)

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Thanks for the reply and for pointing out the landscape, Apollo 8 Earth etc. Yes it makes sense now and when you look more closely you can clearly see the problems you pointed out. Just goes to show how little research the theorists carry out before using this kind of stuff as proof of something!
Unfortunately this is very common - which is why the first step in investigating any "NASA" photo should be to locate the original. Generally a simple image search will give you something. You can also limit it to more "official" photos by adding "site:.gov" to the search.

If you suspect something was added, then you can crop it out, and search with a section of the image, like:

Doing the site:.gov search on this gives us:

You can then generally recognized original/official images as they have an alphanumeric code.
This is the original image, AS11-40-5868:


It can be seen on the Project Apollo Archive Flickr page here: https://flic.kr/p/y41AZ9

And that's actually even more "original" than the one on the NASA page. The actual original image is the physical film positive - the actual bit of film that went to the moon, was exposed to light, and then returned to Earth:

(notice the identification number handwritten on the left side)

These are two different scans of the same positive done years apart with different equipment. Compare the two:


The newer scan is closer to the actual image on the original film positive, so I'd consider it more original than the older scan.
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I've updated the photo comparison above, I'd accidentally dropped off the stripes on the left and right. The Flickr image is a more full scan of the original positive, and so includes those stripes. The older NASA image had them cropped.
Samuel McHugh, where did you get this picture? The photoshopped one in the first post, that is.

If I were going to the trouble of examining an Apolo photo for shenanigans, the source of the photo would be the first thing I'd examine, even before checking for obvious manipulation of the image.

Mick West, excellent replies and thank you for the clue to use site:gov limits on image search. That's one I didn't know.

Also, excellent illustration with the side by side adjustable slide images! I've never seen that widget, very useful in this context!

(New user, I hope posting comments like this are appropriate and okay? If not, do please delete!)
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I dropped the pictures into fotoForensisc and got this

2 original sourced and claimed original

354bd33e03fa38001de44a68c225b032e1301cd7.18274 (1).png

vs tested for ELA



I'm yet to fully grasp the how to and understand the testing of pictures for photoshopping but i found fakers tend to resave shrink or use low quality smaller image as they become harder to test for manipulation & ELA appears more black




External Quote:
Error Level Analysis (ELA) permits identifying areas within an image that are at different compression levels. With JPEG images, the entire picture should be at roughly the same level. If a section of the image is at a significantly different error level, then it likely indicates a digital modification.
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I dropped the pictures into fotoForensisc and got this

2 original sourced and claimed original

You want to use the larger image that @Trailblazer found:

Also Foresically is more flexible than FotoForensics

Really though, the levels variance along diagonal lines in the OP indicates it's a fake. You don't need much more than that. And of course once you have the original it becomes a moot point.
The black crosshairs (or "fiducial markers") visible in Apollo photos are also an indication that the photo is a composite. You can see that the central, larger crosshair is located over the astronaut's backpack, but that isn't the centre of the image.

The crosshairs had a 5 x 5 pattern on the square Hasselblad frames, as seen in this example:


but the composite image has "extra" crosshairs which don't align with the grid. I've marked the original ones in blue (only the ones against a pale background are visible in this small image), and the cloned ones in red, showing where they appear to have been cloned from in a couple of cases.


The crosshairs are also a handy way of spotting whether a particular image has been cropped. If all the crosshairs are present in their correct places then you know it is a full frame and so you can tell whether, the Earth, for instance, appears the correct size for a given focal length.
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For some odd reason this thread has been reported on by British Tabloids

External Quote:

In the image a NASA astronaut can be seen clinging on to the Apollo 11 spacecraft on the surface on the moon with planet earth looming in the background.

Conspiracy theorists who believe the moon landing was a hoax claim the image was mocked up in a top secret studio by NASA and President JFK’s government.

It is claimed NASA and the White House doctored the picture to include Earth after it was taken, giving the impression the space agency had touched down on the moon.

Despite there being no proof of NASA’s alleged lunar hoax, it has captured the imagination of conspiracy theorists for more than 40 years.

But these so-called “truth seekers” have been served a taste of their own medicine after debunking website Metabunk.org have apparently revealed the photo to be bogus.

The website believes that the picture has been edited by crafty conspiracy theorists seeking to stand up their fanciful claims – not the US government or NASA.

A moderator on the website, whose username is Trailblazer, said the photo, which includes the Earth, cannot be found on the official NASA moon missions database.

Nonsense really. The photo is a poor fake, that's all. No reason for the fake was suggested (or even needed). The Star story seems to just rip-of this earlier story from The Express which quotes the thread extensively.
External Quote:

Supporters of the theory claim that the Earth had to be added to the picture, because the lunar surface we see was actually mocked up in a studio.

However, sceptical debunkers, who believe the moon landings did happen, appear to have beaten the conspiracy theorists at their own game in the case of this picture.

Debunking website Metabunk.org, claims to have proved that the picture was edited, but not by NASA... by dishonest conspiracy theorists trying to create evidence to back up their claims.

In an online thread about the image on Metabunk.org, the original NASA photograph of the astronaut was produced, and there is no moon in the background.
The Star story seems to just rip-of this earlier story from The Express which quotes the thread extensively.
Both the Daily Express and The Star are owned by Northern and Shell, both titles are published from the same building in Lower Thames Street in London and The Star often prints 'dumbed down and egged up' versions of stories from The Express.