5.2 Why are there no stars in the photographs?

IN A NUTSHELL: There are no stars in the Moon photographs simply because there shouldn’t be any. The surface of the Moon was in daylight, so the cameras were set for daylight. Stars are too faint to be photographed with daylight settings. The same thing also happens in Russian and Chinese photos taken on the Moon with these settings. Only the planet Venus and the Earth shine brightly enough.

THE DETAILS: This is usually the very first objection raised by doubters: why aren’t there any stars in the Apollo photographs? After all, illustrations and movies that depict the Moon often show the stars in the sky.

However, this is an artistic license. Adding stars makes a picture much more interesting, but it’s scientifically inaccurate. In actual fact, the sky is starless in all photographs ever taken in space in sunlight with normal daylight settings.

There are no stars in pre-Apollo pictures, such as the one shown below, which was taken in 1965 in Earth orbit during the Gemini 4 mission. There are also no stars in more recent space photographs, such as the ones taken by Space Shuttle astronauts. Only with the advent of highly sensitive digital cameras has it been possible to photograph stars from space in any detail.

Figure 5.2-1. Ed White during his spacewalk (Gemini 4, 1965). No stars.

Figure 5.2-2. Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier against the blackness of space during Shuttle mission STS-103 (1999). No stars.

Figure 5.2-3. Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano outside the International Space Station in 2013. No stars. Source: DLR. Credit: ESA/NASA.

No stars can be seen also in the photographs taken on the Moon by the Chinese Chang’e 3 spacecraft, which landed in Mare Imbrium on 14 December 2013, performing the first soft landing on the Moon in 37 years (the previous one dated back to 1976, with the Soviet Luna 24).

Figure 5.2-4. The sky of the Moon, photographed by the Chinese Chang’e 3 spacecraft (2013). No stars. Source: Sina.com.cn.

Figure 5.2-5. Chang’e 3, photographed on the Moon by the digital camera of the Yutu rover. No stars. Source: Sina.com.cn (2013).

Figure 5.2-6. Il cielo della Luna fotografato dalla sonda cinese Chang’e. In primo piano, il veicolo esplorativo (rover) Yutu. Niente stelle. Fonte: Sina.com.cn (2013).

Le stelle non ci sono neanche nelle immagini trasmesse dalla superficie lunare dalle sonde sovietiche Luna 9 (1966), Luna 13 (1966), Luna 17 (1970) e Luna 21 (1973) e raccolte presso Soviet Lunar Photos.

Da questi esempi internazionali, insomma, è evidente che la mancanza di stelle nelle foto lunari e spaziali è assolutamente normale.
The reason is very simple: stars are far too faint to be recorded by a camera set for daylight photography like the Moon cameras were. You can test this easily: take a photograph in daylight with a camera that allows manual settings and make a note of the exposure time and aperture (the number after the “f/”) that yield a good picture. Then try taking a photograph of the night sky with the same settings. The sky will turn out pitch black, except for the Moon and possibly Venus.

The astronauts couldn’t see any stars while they were on the Moon for the same reason. If you stand in a city street at night, your eyes are dazzled by car headlights and street lighting, so you’ll have trouble seeing any stars. Imagine how dazzled the moonwalkers were by the entire lunar surface all around them bathed in direct sunlight. If you’ve noticed how bright a full Moon is and how it blocks out the stars in the night sky, just think how bright it must be when you’re actually standing on that Moon.

This is a basic concept of photography and optics, so those who question the lack of stars in the Apollo visual record are simply revealing their lack of technical knowledge. That’s what prominent Moon hoax theorist Bill Kaysing did when he asked “Where are the stars in the lunar sky?” in his book We Never Went to the Moon (page 23).

Figure 5.2-7. L’Italia di notte, vista dalla Stazione Spaziale Internazionale (di cui si vede al centro uno dei bracci robotici che trattiene il veicolo cargo Cygnus) nel 2014. Qui le stelle si vedono perché la fotocamera è regolata per la fioca luce notturna. Le luci nel mare sono navi. Fonte: NASA.

However, it is incorrect to say that there are no stars at all in any of the pictures taken on the Moon during the Apollo missions. For example, photograph AS16-123-19657 below shows the stars of Capricorn and Aquarius as a backdrop to the Earth. However, it wasn’t taken on the Moon with an ordinary camera, but with a telescope loaded with ultraviolet-sensitive film, using night settings (a long exposure time), during the Apollo 16 mission in April 1972.

Figure 5.2-8. A sample of ultraviolet star photography from Apollo 16.

The Apollo visual record also includes pictures of other heavenly bodies, although strictly speaking they’re not stars. For example, NASA photos AS16-117-18815, -18816 and -18817 (Apollo 16) show the planet Venus. During Apollo 14’s moonwalk, astronaut Alan Shepard noticed that Venus was shining above him, next to the crescent Earth, and took a series of photographs. A detail of one of his pictures is shown below

Venus is far brighter than any true star, so much that it can be seen even in daytime on Earth if you know where to look. Yet in these Apollo photographs it is merely a faint dot.

Figure 5.2-9. Detail of photograph AS14-64-9191. The object on the left is one of the antennas of the lunar module.

The Earth and the lunar module antenna are instead greatly overexposed and washed out, confirming that when the camera is set to capture the faint light of stars, the ground and any sunlit objects will be overexposed and show up in featureless white. The lunar astronauts were interested in taking pictures of the moonscape, not of the stars, so they usually set their cameras to take good pictures of the terrain around them.

Incidentally, close examination of the high-resolution scans of the Apollo photographs that are now available online sometimes reveals bright dots in the lunar sky. However, these are not stars, but point-like scratches, blemishes or lunar dust particles on the film: they change position from one photo to the next and also occur on parts of the pictures that show the ground. Real stars would be in the same place in the sky in photographs taken from the same viewpoint, in the same direction and around the same time, and their positions relative to each other wouldn’t change.

Riuscite a trovare Venere in queste foto? Probabilmente dovrete cliccarvi sopra per ingrandirle al massimo. Venere è sopra la collina più a destra nella prima foto.

Figura 5.2-9. Foto AS16-117-18815.

Figura 5.2-10. Foto AS16-117-18816.

Figura 5.2-11. Foto AS16-117-18817.

Forse riuscite a trovare Venere più facilmente in una versione della prima foto alla quale è stata aggiunta una freccia indicatrice e nella quale è stato aumentato il contrasto:

Figura 5.2-12. Foto AS16-117-18815 (elaborata e annotata).

Sappiamo che non si tratta di un difetto della pellicola perché compare sempre nello stesso punto del cielo nelle tre foto e perché i calcoli astronomici ci dicono che nel momento in cui quelle immagini furono scattate (il 23 aprile 1972 alle 19:04 GMT/UTC) Venere sarebbe stata visibile dal sito di allunaggio di Apollo 16 in quella precisa posizione e direzione.

Venere è visibile anche in alcune immagini scattate da Alan Shepard durante la missione Apollo 14: è quel fioco puntino appena a destra dell‘antenna del modulo lunare.

Figura 5.2-13. Foto AS14-64-9191 (Apollo 14). La parte superiore del modulo lunare, fotografata da Alan Shepard sulla Luna. La falce nel cielo è la Terra.

Figura 5.2-14. Dettaglio della foto AS14-64-9191, elaborato e annotato per indicare Venere.

La presenza di Venere in queste fotografie è un altro esempio della difficoltà di falsificare le foto delle missioni lunari: sarebbe stato necessario tenere presente anche questo genere di dettaglio astronomico.

Ulteriori esempi e dettagli sono disponibili in Perché nelle foto lunari non ci sono le stelle? presso il sito Complottilunari.info, in Photographing Stars presso l’Apollo Lunar Surface Journal e in LUNA: missione vera o inganno?, dell’astronauta italiano Umberto Guidoni, presso Umbertoguidoni.it.