"This changes everything..."
My dream today is that I did not hear all that ridiculous hyperbole on Coast to Coast AM last night, as Richard Hoagland returned after a six-month absence to present his latest cock-and-bull story, a manipulated lunar image from the Chinese soft-lander Chang'e 3 that Hoagland claims shows glass skyscrapers on the Moon.
image credit: CNSA, stretched by Hoagland
My dream is that I imagined all that, and what really happened was this:
Noory: "Welcome back to Coast-to-Coast, Richard, it's been a while."
RCH: "Nice to be back. Look at this amazing, stunning, history-making image from Chang'e 3. Glass skyscrapers on the Moon, just as I've been saying for 20 years."
Noory: "That's just noise in the camera, Richard. Anything else?"
That would have taken less than a minute -- about all the silly image was worth. I'm afraid, though, the reality is that Hoagland stretched this to a full hour. He did it first by saying the same thing six times, with increasing hyperbole, and then by developing a whole fantasy of geopolitical intrigue. He even managed to make a connection to the fact that President Obama gave a gift of carrot seedsnote 1 to the Pope.
S - T - R - E - T - C - H
What the incompetent pseudoscientist did to arrive at this travesty was to grab the image from the Chinese National Space Agency site, load it into Photoshop, and apply the Equalize tool. "Equalize" might have been better described as "Stretch," because that's what it does to the image's dynamic range.
If there are no black pixels in the image, it finds the darkest pixel and says "let that be black." If there are no white pixels in the image, it finds the lightest pixel and says "let that be white."In this case, there was plenty of black around, but no peak white, so the pseudoscientist's manipulation had the effect of driving every part of the image toward white. He called it "just like turning up the gain," but that's not what it is. It's not revealing anything except random noise.
Such is the extent of Hoagland's incompetence that he didn't even think to perform the most obvious cross-check that any honest investigator would have done immediately -- if there's anything there, it would show on the 0.5 m/px high-definition images from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. I don't care how "flimsy" he claims this structure to be, something would be visible if it's real. Even if the structure itself is transparent, we'd see the robots that he claims are standing around waiting to repair holes.
Here's a permalink to the landing area. Have a look around. See anything? No, of course not.
Crimes and misdemeanors on the www
Hoagland accompanied this performance with a web page -- the first contribution to his ghastly web site for a year or more. He says it took him four months to write it, but it's also a demonstration of his incompetence. The page is WAY too big, with far too many large inline images -- it should have been broken up into at least six pieces, and the images reduced in size.It only renders correctly in MSIE -- in more advanced browsers, such as Firefox, the background tiling runs out 60% of the way through and the last 40% is rendered in white text on a white background. The W3C markup validation service reports 136 markup errors and 23 warnings. The text includes crazy, crazy stuff like opals falling out of the glass domes and lying around on the ground. He asserts that Emily Lakdawalla is "a member of the NASA community", which is untrue-- she's a senior editor at the Planetary Society.
Hoagland's fans will no doubt have loved all this. Personally, I hated it. Gross errors in bringing space science to the public is what I'm here to fight.
I grabbed a different moonscape from the CNSA site and equalized it (Paint Shop Pro rather than Photoshop, but it's the same algorithm). This is my result:
image credit: CNSA, stretched by me
Voilà! Exactly the same noise pattern.
 The Chinese lunar rover is nicknamed Jade Rabbit. "And what do rabbits eat?" asked Hoagland conspiratorially. Noory didn't even laugh. In the second hour, he came up with the notion that the latitude of the Chang'e landing site, 44°N, was a coded message "To the 44th President, give us what we want or else." It's a good thing Hoagland isn't a politician -- his insane ideas about geopolitics would get us all in trouble very quickly.