Above us the stars: Apollo low light photography

One of the really really, really tedious pieces of crap that Apollo deniers trot out with boring regularity is the “No stars” argument. They really are stupid on this, probably because they’ve never been outside much.

Just in case you aren’t familiar with it, the argument goes along one of three lines (although occasionally it can be all three). The first is that astronauts never talked about seeing stars. This is patent nonsense, and is usually a re-hash of a tired old discussion about the supposedly reticent and embarrassed attitude of the Apollo 11 astronauts in their post-flight press conference.

Leaving aside the fact that Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin were equally reticent in their pre-flight conference, and the fact that it is just as easy to find snapshots of them smiling and joking as it is to find ones of them being serious, much of the ‘debate’ centres on an answer to a specific question by Patrick Moore, a British astronomer who helped in choosing the Apollo 11 landing site. He asked about seeing stars in the Solar Corona, they said they didn’t, yadayada boom, a conspiracy is born. His question was badly phrased, it’s more likely that he meant “and the solar corona”, not “in”. The astronauts answered what they were asked.

In fact, astronauts make repeated references to stars in every mission. They had no choice. They navigated using them by looking through a sextant and Alignment Optical Telescope (AOT) that helped to inform the Primary Guidance and Navigation System). Strictly speaking the real grunt work of navigation was done on the ground using tracking from the Deep Space Network, but the crews needed to be able to do their own checking just in case communications became an issue. Some astronauts liked to prove they could be as accurate as the DSN in checking where they were.

You can read about how the equipment worked here and here, and this webpage has a good description of the process. In addition to this they make many references to the stellar view. Anyone who claims astronauts could not see stars is either badly educated or a liar. You can even go through the list of quotes about stars I’ve assembled here, or use the link at the bottom of the page.

The next argument is that because NASA knew that people would be scrutinising the photographs carefully, and they knew it would be impossible to recreate the lunar sky, they decided not to bother, which is why you don’t see any at all in the Apollo photographs. Why go to all the trouble just to get caught out by some nerd with a magnifying glass?

This is stupid. The difference between the lunar view of the sky and the terrestrial one is insignificant in astronomical terms - there would be no appreciable difference between the two, and NASA would have known exactly where the stars should be - they had to, otherwise there would have been no point trying to fix a position using them.

Finally, and even more stupidly, there is the argument that NASA, you know, the people who designed the most incredible rocket ever built (the Saturn V) and who had already been to the Moon with countless probes, were so dumb they forgot to put stars in.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

The fact is, as anyone who has ever tried to photograph stars will tell you, it is extremely difficult to take astronomical photos. Even in perfect conditions with absolute darkness you still need long exposures and a lot of patience to take photographs of stars. You would not choose to take photographs of the skies in the equivalent of a supermarket car park - the brightly lit lunar surface with the sun in the sky.

Another consideration is that the film and cameras the astronauts possessed were, for the most part, not equipped to take photographs of stars.

With notable exceptions: both Apollo 14 and 16 captured Venus from the surface, and these are discussed in various places, eg here. UV images of Earth taken by Apollo 16 are also discussed in many places (eg here), and stars are identified in them. These UV images were publicly available at the time, eg in National Geographic. Venus’ image taken on the surface is discussed here. There’s no point re-inventing the wheel so they won’t be discussed in great detail here, but we will have a quick look see.

There are other images available, however. In addition to their normal stock of Hasselblads, later missions to the moon also took special Nikon F 35mm cameras, fitted with a 55mm Zeiss f1.2 lens. In case you aren’t familiar with photographical terms, the ‘f1.2’ refers to the aperture size to which the lens could open. f1.2 is very wide indeed, and what this means is that it could let much more light in, which means that over any given exposure time, there would be more light captured. Sensitive film helped to capture the images.

The rationale behind this specialist lens was to examine features of the sky not normally possible on Earth because of the light pollution from the sun and moon. Behind the moon, it was thought, would be the darkest place human eyes had ever seen - perfect for capturing a variety of astronomical topics.

Very few of these photographs are available online, which is a shame, but those that are available (either as the images themselves or those reproduced in reports) do contain identifiable stars and even planets.

The following pages will examine what is available and will compare them with planetarium software views of the skies during the Apollo missions. They’ll demonstrate that the claim that there are no stars visible in Apollo photographs is at best misinformed and at worst a lie. I’ve also added a page full of quotes from the transcripts where they describe the stellar views, showing that they did discuss them.

Click the links below to see Apollo’s photographs of the stars and planets and see just how wrong the average moon hoax idiot can be.

If all this is tl:dr, there’s a video instead:

Apollo Index Apollo 15 Apollo 14
Apollo 16 Apollo 17 Apollo 16 UV
Apollo Astronaut Star Quotes Apollo 12
Apollo 8 from the ground up