5.24 Why is this astronaut’s shadow missing?

IN A NUTSHELL: Yes, in the photograph of John Young’s salute to the US flag on the Moon, the astronaut appears to cast no shadow. But this isn’t evidence of fakery: Young was simply jumping when the snapshot was taken and so his shadow is displaced sideways and isn’t visible in cropped versions of the picture; full versions show it clearly.

THE DETAILS: The photograph shown below is often claimed by hoax theorists to be fake because the astronaut quite conspicuously lacks a shadow.

The allegedly faked shadowless saluting astronaut.


A patient search through the Apollo image archives reveals that it’s a cropped version of photo AS16-113-18339, taken during the Apollo 16 mission by Charlie Duke. It portrays his commander, John Young, as he salutes the flag.

Knowing the context in which the picture was taken provides the answer to the missing shadow. As noted in the mission reports and transcripts, and as recorded by the video footage of the mission, Young jumped vertically during the salute and Duke caught him in midair in the photograph. That’s why there’s no shadow at Young’s feet: the shadow is displaced downwards and to the viewer’s right, as occurs normally when someone is photographed during a vertical leap with a low sun angle.

The uncropped scans of the photograph show that the astronaut does indeed cast a shadow in the lower right corner of the picture.

Detail of photo AS16-113-18339. John Young’s shadow is displaced towards the bottom right corner because the picture was taken while he was jumping vertically.