Italian branch of National Geographic posts fake Apollo photo to stir debate about alleged NASA fakery

National Geographic TV Italia, the Italian branch of National Geographic, recently posted this picture on Facebook (Donotlink; Donotlink): a photograph of a lunar horizon with a bright mark in the dark sky, captioned “Is it a star, an alien or a person on the set?”

Actually, it's just one of the many marks and blemishes that can be found on Apollo film scans. Usually they're caused by dust particles on the original film, by internal reflections of the camera lens, or by detached flakes of the Mylar coating of the Apollo spacecraft floating outside the vehicle. This is a well-known fact among Apollo experts and enthusiasts and occurs in many photographs, such as AS10-28-3990 (Apollo 10), AS14-68-9742 (Apollo 14), AS15-M-1545 (Apollo 15) or AS16-112-18218 (Apollo 16) and is most definitely not a mystery.

National Geographic TV Italia does not identify the photo in any way: no mission number, no magazine number, no photo number. Basic image analysis reveals that the sky has been heavily retouched, as indicated by the clear banding that emerges when contrast is increased even slightly.

After some rather time-consuming searching on Google and in image search engines I found this post (Donotlink) by a UFO believer, which showed a very similar image and identified its source: AS16-106-17244 (Apollo 16), shown below via Flickr.

National Geographic TV Italia's version of this Apollo 16 photo is drastically cropped, preserving only a small slice of the horizon, and the allegedly mysterious object is enlarged with respect to the moonscape. In the original image, the object is a just tiny speck in the upper right corner, as shown by the arrow below.

The original film is 70 mm wide, so the mark is extremely small on the actual film. Here is a highly enlarged detail of the region of the film that contains the mark.

Note the black dots in the lower portion of this picture: they’re specks of dust, indicating that the film was dusty when it was scanned. Presumably, the alleged “alien” or “person on set” is just another speck of dust, lit by the light of the film scanner.

In summary, National Geographic TV Italia is using a heavily doctored version of an Apollo photograph to ignite a discussion on whether NASA doctored its Apollo photographs and manufacture a clickbaiting controversy over a mote of dust. Pot, meet kettle.

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