Copyright 1995 by Lan Fleming
[Lan Fleming is a programmer-analyst who does computer-based modeling and simulation software for a NASA subcontractor. He wrote this article exclusively for the ISCNI*Flash, dated December 15, 1995.]
For a brief time in the early 1970's as the Apollo program drew to a close, rumors circulated that the astronauts had photographed UFOs near the moon and artificial structures on the lunar surface. Most of these rumors proved to be based on misinterpretations of photographs and in some cases, outright hoaxes.
In June of 1994 Richard Hoagland gave a presentation at the Columbus campus of Ohio State University on lunar anomalies that has rekindled interest in the subject. Hoagland has been known as an advocate of the hypothesis that the "Face on Mars" could be an artificial construct. Hoagland's central tenet was not that the moon now serves as a base for UFOs, but that at some time in the distant past it was the site of extensive construction carried out by some extraterrestrial civilization and that their lunar edifices now lie in ruins, their original purpose unknown.
All of the photographs he presented were taken by Apollo, Lunar Orbiter, and Surveyor spacecraft. All were of areas within or near the region of the moon known to astronomers as Sinus Medii, which is Latin for "central bay". This small region of mare plain is so named because it is in the center of the lunar disk as viewed from Earth.
Among the images Hoagland presented was a slide from a Lunar Orbiter 3 photograph. The Lunar Orbiters were unmanned pre-Apollo spacecraft. This photograph, Frame LO3-84M, showed two features that he called the "Shard" and the "Cube." Both features appeared to be translucent objects of an irregular shape. They were in close proximity to each other and appeared to project from the lunar surface just below the horizon up into the black lunar sky. This strange photograph may be the image that launches a thousand independent investigations, and ultimately, if Hoagland has his wish, a renewed program of lunar exploration.
Lunar SETI is not yet a science, but it has become the active pursuit and passion of more than a few people, who have been examining Hoagland's evidence and collecting additional photographs and other information. The number of independent investigators seems to be increasing with time.
Vito Saccheri, a mechanical engineer from Houston and a MUFON member, has come forward (as reported in ISCNI*Flash 1.8 of July 1) with an account of his visit to NASA's Houston facilities in the 1970's. He reported that he saw lunar photographs there showing lunar bridges spanning vast chasms, towering structures protruding from large craters - and UFOs rising from the surface of the moon.
Save for the heavy security that Saccheri said surrounded the NASA archives of lunar photographs at the time of his visit, there is new evidence that supports much of what he described.
Bridges apparently do span a huge fracture line - what geologists refer to as a scarp - near the crater Lalande, 50 miles west of Sinus Medii (Apollo 16, Frame 849). These "bridges" appear as two narrow filaments crossing the black expanse of the scarp's trough. Areas of the plains on both sides of this scarp are covered with patterns of parallel and very linear ridges, some making sharp 90-degree turns. The general appearance is not dissimilar to a high-altitude aerial photograph of a city connected by bridges across a canyon to the outlying suburbs.
Craters on the monotonous plains of Mare Tranquillitatis near the Apollo 11 landing site contain strange debris, some forming grid-like patterns and some seemingly projecting from the bottom of one crater like the girders of a ruined building (Lunar Orbiter 2 Frame 56H2). Mike Lomax, a computer operator in Kentucky and a space-flight enthusiast of long standing, discovered this photograph as the result of his own investigation, which began with a study of the literature on selenology, or lunar geology. One of his references had remarked that the surface texture on the wall of one crater appeared mildly unusual. Lomax acquired a negative of the photograph from NASA, and on enlargement, he found that the debris appeared to be more than mildly unusual.
There is even evidence of the UFOs that Saccheri described. Ironically, in both cases I am aware of, it was people with backgrounds in geology who first pointed out that there were objects in lunar photographs that clearly were not anchored to the moon's geology.
The first such objects to come to my attention were discovered by Jon Floyd, an avionics specialist in Dallas with an academic background in geology, who has been intensively examining the million-plus images of the moon made by Clementine. Clementine was a Department of Defense spacecraft that visited the moon in 1994. One photograph (Frame LBA040V.140) shows three objects apparently moving past the Clementine Star-Tracker camera's field of view through the lunar sky. The objects do not appear in the preceding or following frames in that same region of sky.
Another such moving object appeared in two consecutive color photographs taken by Apollo 15 during its 1971 mission (Frames AS15-97-13137 and 13138). These photographs, discovered by another investigator, both show what appears to be a bright whitish-blue object in the darkly shadowed interior of a crater on the moon's far side. The object had the same lenticular shape in both photographs.
A planetary geologist who examined the photographs under a laboratory stereoscope observed that the object had moved a noticeable distance relative to the crater's rim between the time the two photographs were taken and that the object was considerably smaller in the second photograph. He concluded that the object was descending toward the lunar surface and away from the Apollo command module.
The investigative processes that have led to these discoveries are not a matter of exhaustively combing through NASA archives for clear pictures of lunar buildings. Most of the available photographs were taken from high altitudes, between 30 and 1500 miles above the lunar surface by various kinds of spacecraft imaging systems. In a few photographs, the smallest objects that can be seen are 3 feet in width, but more usually the dimensions of the smallest resolvable objects are on the order of 200 to 400 feet.
In most cases, the photographs are taken from viewing angles that preclude seeing structures that stand out clearly against the background of the lunar sky. The photograph of the "Shard" and "Cube" is a rare (but not the only) exception. The direction of sunlight, the lengths of shadows cast by objects, shape-from-shading evaluations, and the possibility of unusual geological processes must be considered. The investigation is complicated by the very real possibility that the moon is not quite the geologically "dead" world that most people think it is. There even seems to be some evidence that water once flowed just below - or even on - the surface of the now-airless moon.
Imaging "artifacts" must also be considered. These are odd patterns produced by the idiosyncracies of the specialized cameras that took the photographs. Many such artifacts can easily be recognized, but some are not so easy. The generally-favored skeptical explanation of the "Shard" and "Cube" is that they are in fact imaging artifacts of the Lunar Orbiter's on-board film development system. This explanation seems to have little support, except for the proximity of these objects to a large streak of photographic developer gel, a common defect in Orbiter photographs. While the orientation and appearance of the "Shard" and "Cube" do not match this defect, it could be that some as yet unknown glitch in the Orbiter's complex on-board film development system was responsible.
Odd-looking defects can also be introduced during the reproduction of the photographs. The prints and negatives available to the public, while generally of good quality, are usually third and fourth generation duplicates of the originals.
Could all of this be merely a collection of misconstrued geology and curious photographic defects, or in the case of the "UFOs," ice particles broken loose from the spacecraft that photographed them? Those are the standard explanations that have been quickly embraced by the more militant skeptics, most of whom it seems have examined little or none of the available evidence.
But a few qualified scientists are becoming increasingly if cautiously interested in the investigations. Their skepticism is of a more constructive variety. "Nothing should be ruled out until all possibilities have been carefully considered," was the opinion expressed by one such scientist. With the active participation of professionals, a definitive answer may come in the not-too-distant future.
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