Earlier this month, when a few high-traffic news websites reported a strange object or wedge-shaped craft on Google Moon, I was skeptical. Surprised, too, because when I opened the application, there it was, a distinct V-shape of bright lights inside a tiny crater on the moon’s far side. It did not look natural. I marked its location at 142 degrees and 34 minutes east and 22 degrees 42 minutes north, at the edge of Mare Moscoviense.
Websites run by the Houston Chronicle, the Mail Online, and the New York Daily News all sourced their reports to the Youtube video by Wowforreel, whose channel offers generous helpings of UFO-related fare. The video of the V-shaped anomaly has drawn more than 1.4 million viewers and national advertising. Surely this was an alien chaser’s dream come true.
But this is no home-grown digital spoof. The anomaly is there, in a small corner of a high-resolution image that Google credits to JAXA, the Japanese space agency whose Kaguya spacecraft took the photo. Either everyone was in on this—or more likely, my astrophotography experience told me, these are digital imaging artifacts.
Lots of Lights
Taking a wider look at the Kaguya photo, I noticed small lights in the shadows of dozens of small craters. The lights were arranged in circles, lines, arcs and clusters, all deep inside black lunar shadows. And they were everywhere. If these are alien craft, we’re in for a major invasion.
I contacted Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, where the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera is managed. The spacecraft has photographed nearly the entire surface of the moon in sub-meter resolution.
The LROC images are online and publicly available. All the old Apollo lunar landing craft are visible, and you can even see tracks made by the lunar rovers. In short, it would be hard for a large wedge-shaped craft to escape detection under such scrutiny.
That opinion is shared by Mark Robinson, a geologist, planetary scientist and the LROC’s principal investigator. Robinson and his colleague Jeff Plescia directed me to a close-up photo of the crater, taken by the LROC under better lighting. On the crater’s floor is nothing but rocky rubble and moon dust.
Mick West, who runs the debunking website Metabunk.org, also convincingly argues that the object is a digital byproduct.
“The answer is that Google stores multiple resolution image tiles, and uses a different set of tiles depend on how much you are zoomed in,” West explained. “The higher-resolution tiles have some filters applied to them, to make them seem sharper. Unfortunately it seems these sharpening filters have created some noise along the boundaries between light and dark regions, and that is what has created these dots.”
In the case of the mysterious V-shaped object, the crater’s adjacent bright rim is also V-shaped, which the dots dutifully follow. So no, a few simple digital artifacts arranged in neat rows are not evidence of a wedge-shaped spacecraft—but are perhaps proof of how easy it can be to see things that we want to see, while ignoring what is really there.
Ernie Mastroianni is Discover’s photo editor and an avid astrophotographer.