Having returned from Las Vegas and The Amazing Meeting, an annual conference on skepticism hosted by the James Randi Educational Foundaton, I’ve been very eager to start posting about my experiences at the meeting.†† Unfortunately, I’ve been fairly busy, as apparently going to Las Vegas for a week tends to result in a lot of work piling up.†† In general, the meeting was attended by mainstream skeptics, who may not agree on everything but tended to agree on well proven things, like the fact that the US Apollo program did indeed send men to the moon and back.
This was not quite 100%, however, as at least one conspiracy-obsessed heckler did attend, and attempted repeatedly to heckle Phil Plait and Adam Savage.†† Jarrah White is about as committed to the belief that the Apollo moon landings were faked as one can be.†† He’s already produced (at last count) 393 Youtube videos on the subject – all of them absolutely stunning in their lack of technical and scientific knowledge.
I recognized White’s voice from the videos as soon as he got up to question Adam Savage. That snooty, nasal, sharp whine with an Australian accent was hard not to recognize, especially as I’ve seen plenty of his videos before. Apparently he came all the way from Australia to try to get up in the face of those who he considers the conspirators behind the faked moon landing
His behavior was about as strange as one might expect. I was concerned initially that he might try to rush the stage or do something else completely crazy – after all, Apollo conspiracy theorists have been known to physically threaten astronauts and do all manner of other crazy things. I alerted the staff and security to his background to be on the safe side, but luckily he didn’t try anything too violent.
Instead, he repeatedly insisted that he get a sit-down interview with Phil Plait. Phil was quite civil, and informed him that to get scheduled interview time he would need to register as press. The Amazing Meeting does not have very exclusive standards for who is given press status – bloggers and podcasters can easily get it. When he was asked for his information on this topic, he repeatedly made a scene about not wanting to reveal his background. I’m not sure how things worked out, but eventually he got a press pass and thus could get his interview. Unfortunately for him, Phil Plait decided to decline the request. After rudely interrupting Phil, who was trying to converse with others at the conference, the Little Dude from the Moon finally started yelling at Phil that he thought his answers were dishonest and he was a liar. Phil said something about how he didn’t believe he could say anything that would change the Little Dude’s mind and that if the Little Dude felt that way, he was not interested in sitting down for an interview.
I’m just glad that no punches were thrown. As he came from Australia, it seemed a reasonable concern that he would not want to make such a trip without getting in at least one dramatic moment or big confrontation. I did challenge him openly to a debate. He never responded to this. Surprised? In fact, I only saw him around on the first day of the three-day event. No word on whether he left early or went into hiding or what.
He has also already posted at least one video from the event:
It should be noted that Adam Savage is not an absolute expert on this topic. There is actually a greater context to this. Phil Plait may have been able to answer this, but Jarrah managed to burn that bridge a long time ago.
Debunking his ridiculous claim:
There are several intentionally-placed laser reflectors on the surface of the moon. The US Apollo program left laser reflectors at the sites of Apollo-11, Apollo-14 and Apollo-15. The Apollo-15 reflector is the largest, with almost twice the surface area of those placed by Apollo-11 and Apollo-14. The Soviet Lunokhod-1 and Lunokhod-2 lunar lander also carried similar, although smaller laser reflectors.
But are these required to get a laser beam return from the moon?
Technically the answer is no. With a powerful enough laser and a sensitive and large enough telescope, it is possible, though extremely difficult, to detect the photons from a laser being reflected back from the moon. The surface of the moon is not exactly super-reflective, but it’s also not a perfect absorber of photons.† However, the reflectors still provide a much stronger return than the surface of the moon ever would.
Several attempts were made to detect laser light reflected off the moon in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. In 1962, a team at MIT finally managed to detect photons reflected off the moon by a laser. The laser they used was a pulsed ruby system, aimed through a twelve inch telescope. By the standards of the day, this was a very powerful laser. In order to detect the return, a 48 inch telescope was coupled to an array of photomultiplier tubes, cooled in liquid nitrogen to increase their sensitivity. Not long after this, the Soviet Union conducted a series of similar experiments with pulsed lasers and telescopes.
While these experiments were considered successful, the return signal was only barely detectable. A more successful method of bouncing signals off the moon had been done using modified radar equipment. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, microwave transmitters powerful enough to send a signal to the moon and detect the return signal became available and a series of experiments were conducted by the US, UK and Soviet Union. As far as radio reflectors go, the moon is far less than ideal. The total path loss from a moon returned signal is generally over 250 decibels.
Today, Moon-bounce or “EME” communications, for Earth-Moon-Earth remains popular in the amateur radio community. Part of the reason for its popularity is that it is very very difficult to get reliable returns from signals reflected off the moon, thus making it a badge of honor to do so. Amateurs who engage in EME use extremely large, high gain antenna arrays to pull in even the vanishingly weak signals returned from the moon.† Even despite these efforts, EME communications is usually limited to CW or other narrow band modulation methods.†† Voice communications, though possible, are extremely difficult to maintain via EME.
The purpose of the reflectors:
The reason that reflectors were left on the moon was not simply to make it easier to get a return from laser light, but also to provide a single fixed reflector that could be accurately referenced from the earth.† While range-finding to the moon by radio or laser can provide a fairly good idea of the distance from the earth to the moon, the precision is hampered by the fact that the moon is not a regular surface.††† If the light is returned from the bottom of a crater, it may have to travel hundreds of meters further than if it is returned from the lunar highlands.††† By using the laser reflectors, the distance to the moon can be measured with millimeter precision.
The laser reflector experiments continue to be utilized today and have provided a great deal of fundamental data about the moon, the orbital dynamics of the earth and moon.†† Not only has distance been measured with extreme precision, but it now is known that the moon is spiraling away from the earth at the rate of about 38 millimeters per year.†† The measurement of distance is precise enough to verify orbital predictions made by Einstein’s theory of Relativity.†† Range-finding has also allowed for extremely precise measurements of the earth’s orbital stability as well as measuring even the slightest wobble in the moon’s orbit.
How the reflectors verify the moon landings:
In addition to the volumes of other evidence that proves that, yes, human beings did go to the moon, the reflectors continue to be detectable and continue to be useful for scientific purposes.†† While the surface of the moon may be reflective enough to allow for laser light measurements to be made, the reflectors are orders of magnitude more reflective.†† The difference is very obvious when the moon is scanned with laser optics.
When the beam from a laser at the McDonald Observatory reaches the lunar surface, it is about 6.5 kilometers in diameter. If this beam is focused on a random part of the moon, so few photons are reflected back that they generally cannot be detected by the equipment being used. However, when the beam is aimed at one of the reflectors, a very solid, strong reflection is detected. When measurements are made, the observatory occasionally does not hit the reflector on the first attempt, and must scan a small area of the moon until it acquires the target. When it does, it is obvious. There is no doubt that these sites are unique in their ability to reflect back light, even if the rest of the moon does have some very limited reflectiveness.
This entry was posted on Friday, July 16th, 2010 at 2:21 pm and is filed under Amazing Meeting, Bad Science, Conspiracy Theories, Culture, Good Science, History, Space. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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