Pluto “Truthers” and Spacefaring Denialists Present Teachable Moment

Pluto. New Horizons Mission. Courtesy NASA/JPL.

Pluto. New Horizons Mission.
Image: NASA/JPL.

NASA conspiracy theories are generally nothing new, especially as we celebrate the anniversary of our first steps on Earth’s moon (20 July 1969). But with NASA’s New Horizons Pluto flyby imagery released last week, some tired Moon Hoax conspiracy myths and misconceptions were recycled in the headlines.

Inside the Pluto ‘Truther’ Movement, Which Claims Flyby Was Faked (Newsweek):

But a group of individuals says the images are fake and that NASA staged the flyby. Major historic moments often inspire conspiracy theories, and bloggers have dubbed this one the Pluto Truther movement.

[…”Crow”, one of the group members’] argument: How is it that NASA’s images of Pluto, supposedly taken from a only few million miles away, are of a poorer quality than those he took of Jupiter with his telescopic camera from 484 million miles away?

Without going into an exhaustive discussion of instrumental payloads aboard spacecraft, or the advantages of photographing a 139,822 kilometer-wide planet versus a 2,370 kilometer-wide dwarf planet (even if the dwarf planet has a wide distance advantage), it’s worth noting that different equipment is optimized for different tasks. Astronomer Phil Plait has already posted an excellent discussion of why the Hubble Space Telescope can take wonderful pictures of interstellar space, but counter-intuitively has trouble with closer objects like Pluto, at Bad Astronomy.

But according to Newsweek, “Crow” and his friends have problems with other NASA missions, including ones that aren’t even NASA missions:

This is very telling. I recently made a well researched clip on their Rosetta comet landing mission which demonstrates what we can expect from NASA on any given mission.

One of his “well researched” observations about the Rosetta mission, a European Space Agency (ESA) mission, is that the comet it approached, 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (67P), was discovered from a photograph taken on the 11th of September (a telltale date, according to “Crow”) in 1969. We’re not off to a good start, and his analysis sadly doesn’t get better from there.

Another of the group’s spokespeople explained their objections further:

Shaw doubts the entire NASA space program, including the moon landing. His theory goes: If space is a vacuum, how could spacecraft traverse it? And if it is not a vacuum, but full of debris, why would governments spend so much money sending people and high-tech gear into it?

This “rockets can’t work in a vacuum” myth is all over the place in space conspiracy circles. It’s pretty central, especially among Moon Hoaxers, and it’s tempting to dismiss some of these questions (as one quoted Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist did) as making no sense. But these aren’t stupid questions.

As an engineer, I’d like to acknowledge that it’s indeed challenging to come up with a way to show/teach why rockets can work in a vacuum while we, the experimenters, are surrounded by air. Most forms of flight we’re familiar with (planes, balloons, helicopters) require surrounding air to generate lift, exploit a density difference, or push against, to stay aloft. At the center of this news story is a learning moment.

A Rocket-Hoax Experiment

Consider the example shown below of a scientist seated in a Radio Flyer wagon. The scientist hurls a rock away, creating an equal-but-opposite acceleration force away from the rock, and propelling the wagon in the opposite direction…

Image: Sellers, Jerry Jon. "A One-Person Rocket." Figure. Understanding Space: An Introduction to Astronautics. McGraw-Hill, 2000. p. 534. Print. Annotations by Nathan Miller, 2015.

Image: Sellers, Jerry Jon. “A One-Person Rocket.” Figure. Understanding Space: An Introduction to Astronautics. McGraw-Hill, 2000. p. 534. Print. Annotations by Nathan Miller, 2015.

“But wait,” I hear the Spacefaring-Truthers say, “the ball is pushing against surrounding air, and that’s what’s pushing the wagon in the other direction.”

Not so fast. If you observe the relative surface area annotated in the figure, you’ll note that there is more air pressure against the back of the scientist (due to his larger surface area) than the rock. If anything, the projection of mass is moving him backward despite the (very small) influence of air pressure, not because of it. It’s the mass accelerated, not air resistance, which provides the force that drives our one-person wagon “rocket,” which is why rockets (not wings or propellers) make a great vehicle for travel through a vacuum.

Sometimes space is counter-intuitive, but you can try this one out for yourself. Just try not to hurt yourself or throw rocks at anyone. For more about how rockets work, check out an excellent overview by Fraser Cain at Universe Today.

Journey of Self-Discovery

According to the Pasadena-Star News, “The ‘truthers’ have adjusted the tin foil on their heads and declared that the whole journey is a fraud, announcing that “Pluto is only at Disneyland’ and “NASA’s mission is to ensure we know nothing about what is outside of our world.” But reporter Robert Rector observes that while we’re learning new things about worlds very unlike our own through these missions, “Ultimately, the Pluto fly-by is a journey of self-discovery.” And that’s why the risky journey through a vacuum and among debris is worth the ride.

  24 comments for “Pluto “Truthers” and Spacefaring Denialists Present Teachable Moment

  1. terry the censor
    July 21, 2015 at 9:57 PM

    Newsweek: “Not only should the public question the authenticity of these images, [Shaw] says, but it should also reconsider basic teachings such as whether the Earth is round or rotates at all.”

    Oh boy.

  2. Bill T.
    July 22, 2015 at 1:47 AM

    I question it. However, in getting answers to my questions, all of the evidence points it as being the case, so I’ll go with the Earth being round and rotating. The difference, I hope, is that I believe that I understand what actually constitutes evidence and understand most of the limits of my understanding. Some folks apparently have a problem wth that, hence, the Dunning-Kruger effect.

  3. busterggi (Bob Jase)
    July 22, 2015 at 9:21 AM

    I’m not surprised by Crow’s claim but I’d like to see what Tom Servo has to say.

  4. Tony
    July 22, 2015 at 10:14 AM

    The only “Crow” who’s opinion I’d trust on this matter is Crow T. Robot, of MST3K’s Satellite of Love.

  5. Tony
    July 22, 2015 at 10:22 AM

    You beat me to it. I should’ve read the previous comments before chiming in (see below). Well done.

  6. Senua
    July 22, 2015 at 11:09 AM

    I know someone who believes that all NASA missions are fake and that the space station doesn’t exist. It was impossible to point out that the conspiracy theories he was hooked on were a load of rubbish. I gave up in the end.

  7. Mike C.
    July 22, 2015 at 11:55 AM

    I see those idiots post at the articles in Yahoo News. You just can’t take them seriously. And they lack science knowledge of course. And of course they can’t prove anything either. They just shout out their stupid claims.

    I had one I was explaining about the flag “waving” on the Moon. I think I might have got through to him. But these people completely lack common sense.

  8. Kathy Moyd
    July 22, 2015 at 12:50 PM

    Do they realize how many people would have to be in on the hoax? In addition to government employees, who actually have little involvement in the deep space missions, there are mission operations people from many organizations and countries. I worked in mission operations at JPL, which is operated by Caltech, for several missions including Deep Space 1 and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

    If DS 1 was a hoax, why would they pretend it went into safe mode 12 hours before its asteroid flyby and have a major spacecraft failure requiring significant effort to recover before a very successful comet flyby. We could have done without the stress!

    MRO was built by Lockheed-Martin and operated jointly by Lockheed and JPL; contained instruments from several universities, private organizations, and Italy; tracked by JPL antennas in the U.S., as well as a Japanese antenna .

  9. MisterNeutron
    July 22, 2015 at 3:22 PM

    Do they realize how many people would have to be in on the hoax?

    This is the major failing of almost all conspiracy theories. For the conspiracy to be successful, it requires absolute, airtight secrecy by hundreds or thousands of people, spread across any number of different agencies, levels of government, etc., etc.

    Mind you, the conspiracy nuts are often the same people who maintain that the government is incompetent, and incapable of doing anything right – except, of course, pulling off a truly impressive hoax. The government is flawless at that task!

  10. Blargh
    July 22, 2015 at 3:26 PM

    You can get a cheap low vacuum “enough to test the basic principle” vacuum pump for 20 bucks. My local hardware store sells medium vacuum “water outgassing will be your bottleneck” vacuum pumps for around 120 (so I assume you can get them for much less online). Testing the hypothesis that rockets can’t function in a vacuum yourself is not hard… especially not if you can afford the kind of equipment Mr Crrow apparently has.

    And this may be what bothers me the most with truthers and deniers. Not that they don’t accept the scientific consensus, but that they refuse to do even the most rudimentary fact checking of their own beliefs.

  11. Peebs
    July 22, 2015 at 6:03 PM

    There’s a Facebook page called ‘Conspiricy Theorists say the darnedest things’. One of the best comebacks (and mindf*cks) I’ve ever seen was with reference to the old trope, “Jet fuel can’t melt steel beams”.

    One of guys trolling them replied; “No but concentrated Chemtrail liquid can!”.

    Of all the things I wish I’d thought of..

  12. ZW Wolf
    July 22, 2015 at 6:07 PM

    I’ve been studying the videos and blog writings of Crow777. This will give you a picture of what he’s all about. For years he’s been studying the sky with his backyard telescope and obsessively videos the moon. He has observed anomalies which have led him to believe that the Moon is an artificial construct, and further that there is something dreadfully wrong with our World – that the world is controlled by a single group and we are being deceived on a basic level. He videos chem-planes and UFOs on their way to the Moon.

    Within the last year or so he ran across the writings of a Russian he calls “Hatybov” on the Internet and has incorporated them into his belief system.

    This is his current theory:

    Earth and what we call the Solar System is an artificially constructed structure

    · Man was imported to Earth 145,762 years ago

    · Man, not able to defend itself, was colonized and infected by an Atlanta-ian Spider race from the planet Sur 4 18,337 years ago (or 18,337 BC?) These aliens are 4 meters tall and look like spiders (Nephilim) and came from the constellation Ursa Major, in a biosphere, and captured this solar system

    · To protect this new found colony and its assets, the Spider race created a system of Land Management to protect their conquests

    The Moon is an important part of that control system and is an artificial construct, with an inner cubical part and an outer façade 184 km across that is made to look like a natural satellite. Tides and so on are created by this control system in an entirely mechanistic way. It’s a trick in other words. The Spider like Aliens are behind everything that goes on here and are in complete control. Thus an international conspiracy is complete child’s play.

    I’ll cut and paste his words from a blog entry;

    “The most fascinating portion of the Hatybov lunar research is without a doubt the genotype descriptions. Under the heading “Easter” he outlines three groups of people that categorize the entire population. I will do my best to decipher what he meant and mention societal connections I see.

    In the genotype section Hatybov states that the clock cycle of Earth is “given” or regulated by the Sun. This is a bit confusing as we opened with the moon and its role with regard to time. I suspect that the idea of a lunar calendar as a more accurate division of time and the idea that the sun regulates time may be the key. He defines the genome types of all people in three groups as follows:

    1.Genotype 42 – The general population of more than 5 billion people.

    2.Genotype 44 – The “Golden Billion” with brains “brought” from the satellites of planets. (Moon control systems/Spiders (Nephilim) invasion?) (There is more on this later)

    3.Genotype 46 – The “Golden Million” which is made up of 1,200,000 that were “dropped off from the Sun”. He may be saying the Sun is more like a planet than the star we have been told it is and that it is not bigger than Earth. Translation is everything in this matter.

    As most of the descriptions given about genotypes seem to be addressing “brains”, I think the following ideas are meant to imply “upgrading” or “programming” what we would think of as brains and the ability to think. Hatybov states that up to 2009 Easter was held only in the third phase (phase 3) of the moon and Easter is the day that the “programming” or “translating” of human brains is done – by the moon control system. By 2009 the formation/programming (?) of genotypes 44 and 46 was completed and the destruction or phasing out of genotype 42 had begun. Genotype 42 “destruction” was supposed to have started in 2009 on Easter which was the New Moon (phase 1) and different from the previous third phase (phase 3) Easters. It seems like he is saying that the 42 genotype would be cut off from the moon system updates by 2012, when I filmed the largest and best lunar wave. It is very hard to add more here until better translations are available but I would ask – Is it possible that we are seeing the manipulation and “destruction” of large groups of people now? Is it possible that these are the folks who seem incapable of waking up? Are we seeing genotype 42? I have no way to know for sure but it would sure explain a few things with regard to how can so many can be so unaware. The vast majority of people seem to be stuck in the insidious cycle of belief. To be clear, belief is not “knowing” and “knowing” does not require belief. Knowing is a state of understanding and belief is a choice.”

    End quote

    The humans who seemingly run the world are puppets of the Spider-Aliens. Indeed they aren’t entirely human as their brain contains “Spider residue.”

    The ruling elite indoctrinate all of the Earth’s population with false beliefs. Most of science as we know it is a sham. There are no real planets for instance. NASA is totally lying about all astronomy and the space program. Because Pluto does not exist as a real place – but only as a self luminous façade of some kind put there to confuse us – and because it is impossible for us to put anything out there beyond low Earth orbit in this artificial construct they call the Solar System, it is prima facie absurd that NASA sent anything there.

    Crow777 is completely frustrated by most people’s blindness to see that we are living in this controlled reality and has a hard time containing his contempt for us. But he sees hope that times are changing and that more and more superior people are waking up to reality and challenging the blind programing. “Question everything!” is his motto.

  13. MisterNeutron
    July 22, 2015 at 6:59 PM

    I love the delusionals who believe that the World Trade Center towers were brought down by an “inside job,” complete with demolition charges. It would seem that these credulons have never seen one of the shows about what it takes to implode a building – weeks of very obvious work involving partially cutting beams, removing walls, and so on. The notion that some crew of black-dressed ninjas could sneak into the towers at close of business and rig the place to collapse the next morning, would be hilarious if it weren’t so tragic.

  14. terry the censor
    July 22, 2015 at 8:08 PM

    > the flag “waving” on the Moon

    Keep this bookmarked for future attempts at educating the deniers:

    Mythbusters was able to reproduce the flapping flag in a vacuum chamber, thereby busting the conspiracy theory.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFvWEdXSFk4

    The whole episode is pretty good. Here’s the summary of myths tested:

    http://mythbustersresults.com/nasa-moon-landing

  15. terry the censor
    July 22, 2015 at 8:19 PM

    > black-dressed ninjas … rig the place to collapse the next morning, would be hilarious

    That would be a great premise for a cable show: rather than disproving conspiracy theories, try to reproduce the claim, thereby showing how difficult (and often absurdly complicated) it would be to pull off.

    Controlled demolition could be demonstrated, as you state, by showing a team blowing up a condemned building, making clear how invasive and complex the whole process is.

    My fantasy would be to diagram an alien abduction in a home — without being seen by the neighbours, CCTV, air traffic, or airport radar systems.

  16. F89
    July 22, 2015 at 9:15 PM

    What would anyone hope to gain by FAKING an unmanned mission to Pluto?

  17. Headless Unicorn Guy
    July 23, 2015 at 12:56 AM

    Do they realize how many people would have to be in on the hoax?

    Everyone in the entire world EXCEPT the one Truther, of course.

    The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs, and Won’t Be Taken In.

  18. Headless Unicorn Guy
    July 23, 2015 at 12:58 AM

    Do they realize how many people would have to be in on the hoax? In addition to government employees, who actually have little involvement in the deep space missions, there are mission operations people from many organizations and countries.

    Who are ALL part of The Conspiracy, of course.

    “If your Conspiracy Theory doesn’t fit the facts, Invent a Bigger Conspiracy.”
    — Kooks Magazine

    If DS 1 was a hoax, why would they pretend it went into safe mode 12 hours before its asteroid flyby and have a major spacecraft failure requiring significant effort to recover before a very successful comet flyby.

    Because that’s what THEY want you to think, of course.

  19. Headless Unicorn Guy
    July 23, 2015 at 1:01 AM

    Thing is, it is literally IMPOSSIBLE to refute a Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory.

    * Any and all evidence against The Conspiracy is disinformation planted by The Conspiracy.
    * Lack of evidence for The Conspiracy PROVES that The Conspiracy is so vast and powerful THEY can silence anything.
    * Anyone who doubts the existence of The Conspiracy has PROVEN themselves to be part of The Conspiracy.
    * The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs, and Won’t Be Taken In.

  20. Headless Unicorn Guy
    July 23, 2015 at 1:03 AM

    Maybe THAT’s why Conspiracy Theorists are so sour & bitter.

    They’re miffed that they’re the only ones left out of The Conspiracy.

    “Who controls the British Crown?
    Who keeps the metric system down?
    WE DO! WE DO! WE DO!
    Who keeps the Martians under wraps?
    Who keeps Atlantis off the maps?
    WE DO! WE DO! WE DO!”
    — Stonecutters’ Anthem from The Simpsons

  21. Mike C.
    July 23, 2015 at 8:56 AM

    I have seen that episode. One moon hoaxer complaint that also cracks me up that the “footprints don’t look right” (that was on Mythbusters too. Anyway in order for them to know if the “footprints don’t look right” they would have to know what the “right” footprints look like. So how could they know that unless they’ve been to the Moon?

  22. Mike C.
    July 23, 2015 at 9:01 AM

    Then there are the Jew haters that claim Israel was behind it. They talk about the imaginary “dancing Jews”. That claim is so irrational because I ask them how extreme Jew hating Muslims (Al Qaeda) are going to take orders, training and are going to die for the Jews.

    I’ll also have to remember to use that line “No but concentrated Chemtrail liquid can!” when they bring up the jet fuel. LOL.

  23. Mike C.
    July 24, 2015 at 8:58 AM

    And then there’s also the kooks that think Nibiru is real too.

  24. ScepticalScotty
    July 25, 2015 at 2:21 PM

    Crow seems to be smoking some really strong stuff…..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *