One of the favorite allegations by those who continue to be skeptical of the Apollo moon landings is that there are no stars visible in the photographs taken by the astronauts while they were “supposedly” on the Moon. Now while there’s a rather short but succinct list of why that’s the case (and feel free to review those reasons here) the truth is that there ARE stars visible in photographs taken from the Moon—photographs taken in ultraviolet light during the penultimate Apollo 16 mission in April of 1972.
The image above was captured with the Far Ultraviolet Camera/Spectrograph instrument that was set up on the lunar surface by Apollo 16 astronauts John Young and Charlie Duke on April 21, 1972.
It was a gold-plated, 3-inch telescope and camera with a cesium iodide cathode and film cartridge, developed by African-American physicist Dr. George Carruthers while working at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. The camera was sensitive to light “at wavelengths between 500 and 1600 Angstroms…Emission at these wavelengths comes primarily from very hot stars of spectral classes O, B, and A, with surface temperatures of 10,000° to 50,000° K. For comparison, the temperature at the visible surface of the Sun is about 5800° K or 11,000°F. Stars as faint as magnitude 11, or 100 times fainter than can be seen with the human eye, were recorded.” (Source)
The Far Ultraviolet Camera was set up at the start of the first Apollo 16 EVA in the shade of the LM and aimed at planned points of astronomical interest during the course of the mission, and allowed to expose the film at various lengths as needed. At the end of the mission the film was retrieved and brought back to Earth; the camera itself remains on the surface in Descartes Highlands next to the LM descent stage.
A total of 190 UV mission photographs were taken, along with additional calibration frames.
“Specific planned targets were the geocorona, the Earth’s atmosphere, the solar wind, various nebulae, the Milky Way, galactic clusters and other galactic objects, intergalactic hydrogen, solar bow cloud, the lunar atmosphere, and lunar volcanic gases (if any).” (Source)
So as we can clearly see, stars were captured on camera from the Moon. It just required a long exposure and a steady, tripod-mounted camera aimed upward from a dark location—not one strapped to the chest of an astronaut’s space suit aimed toward the bright surface of the Moon.
And why ultraviolet photography? Simple: it had scientific value. The Earth’s atmosphere blocks much of the UV light that comes in from distant stars; having an observatory on the Moon, even for a brief few days, was worth it for astronomers—especially in the days before orbiting space telescopes like Hubble.
Besides stars—which show up in some of the UV photos as streaks because of the exposure times—the Far Ultraviolet Camera also captured some very cool pictures of Earth with its atmosphere glowing with airglow and rings of aurorae visible around the polar regions.
“The most immediately obvious and spectacular results were really for the Earth observations, because this was the first time that the Earth had been photographed from a distance in ultraviolet light, so that you could see the full extent of the hydrogen atmosphere, the polar auroris and what we call the tropical airglow belt.”
— Dr. George Carruthers
So basically this is yet another nail in the already nail-filled coffin lid for Apollo “hoaxers.” No stars in Apollo pictures? Nonsense. Dr. Carruthers’ golden camera captured plenty.
(By the way the images seen here aren’t readily available online from NASA; they were ordered from Goddard Space Flight Center and decoded and scanned by a private third party who goes by the handle “Apollo 16 UVC S201.” It’s a work in progress, but they are still public domain NASA images.)
See the scanned photos from the Far Ultraviolet Camera here, and check out a slideshow of the current lot of them below.
UPDATE: Here’s a processed version of the above Earth aurora photo, with some color added to enhance contrast.