Determining the Authenticity of a Photo

It is impossible to positively prove the authenticity of a photo beyond any doubt unless we take the photos ourselves. Instead, we gather as much information as possible related to the photo, evaluate the information, then use inductive reasoning to determine if the photo is real. And the conclusion will always be a probability, not a certainty.

Flat-Earthers like to demand us to prove that a particular photo is real, and if we cannot, they will conclude the photo is fake. In reality, while we might be able to prove a photo is not real, at the very best, we can only say there is no reason to believe the photo is not real from all the available information. This applies to practically all photos and also plenty of other things in everyday life.

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Seeing Stars in Space

Stars are dim. We can only see them if our eyes are adapted for low light. Astronauts in space can see the stars when the sun is blocked from view and avoid seeing any large sunlit objects.

Some astronauts said they did not notice the stars, but others claim they could see them. Flat-Earthers use the conflicting statements to discredit spaceflight. In reality, sometimes astronauts can see the stars, and sometimes cannot, just like us on the ground, depending on the situation.

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Visibility of Objects in Space Compared to Those on Earth’s Surface

Visibility is a measure of the distance at which an object can be clearly discerned. Visibility depends on the transparency of the air. There is no air in space to disrupt the transmission of light, and therefore, light can travel very far in space practically undisturbed.

The ISS can be seen clearer than objects on Earth’s surface far closer than the ISS. Flat-Earthers use the fact as “evidence” that the ISS is much closer. In reality, only a fraction of the light path from the ISS travels through the dense lower part of the atmosphere that will significantly affect the transmission of light.

On the other hand, light emitted by objects on Earth’s surface has to travel the entire path through Earth’s atmosphere.

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Camera Exposure Settings to Capture the Moon and Stars

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The sunlit part of the moon is far brighter than the stars in the background. But cameras have dynamic range limitations. They cannot capture extremely bright and extremely dim objects at the same time. We can increase the exposure to reveal the stars, but then the moon will appear washed out, with no visible details.

Flat-Earthers use the lack of stars in photos taken from space to dismiss them as fake. In reality, the reason for the lack of stars is the same reason stars are also missing in photos of the Moon taken with the correct exposure.

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Curved Airplane Window and Observation of Earth’s Curvature

With careful planning, we can easily observe Earth’s curvature from an airliner. To “explain” the observation, flat-Earthers invented the excuse that it is caused by the distortion from the shape of the airplane’s window.

In reality, all camera lenses are curved, too, yet most of these lenses produce normal, rectilinear images. The fact that the shape of the window is curved does not mean looking through the window will produce a curved horizon.

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Visual Albedo of the Moon and the Earth

Visual albedo is the measure of the reflection of sunlight out of the total solar radiation received by an astronomical body, taking into account only the visible light. The visual albedo of the Earth is 0.37, and the Moon’s is 0.12.

The Moon appears dark if the Earth also appears in the same photograph. Flat Earthers use the fact to dismiss such photos as fake. In reality, the Moon’s brightness in a photo is just a matter of choosing the correct camera exposure. But if Earth is also present, increasing the exposure will make the Earth appear too bright.

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Glare

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Glare can appear around light sources, causing them to appear larger in a photo. The higher the exposure value of the camera, the larger the glare will appear on the resulting photo.

Much flat-Earth misinformation arises from misunderstandings about photography, such as about glare and how to eliminate glare by changing the exposure or by using a solar filter. Using the exposure setting for everyday scenes to capture a photograph of the sun will give us a glare around the Sun. To take a photo of the actual size of the Sun, we need to reduce the exposure, either by changing the in-camera exposure settings or by using a solar filter.

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Lamp Illuminating a Dark Wall Demonstration

Flat-Earthers often show us images of a lamp illuminating a dark wall to demonstrate —incorrectly— how night can happen on a flat Earth.

In the images, the areas farther from the lamp appear dark. Due to the inverse-square law, areas farther than the source of light receive less light. However, these areas still receive light nonetheless. From these dark areas, the lamp is still visible. This contrasts with what happens at night, that sunlight is nonexistent and the sun is not visible.

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Lunar Transit Images from DSCOVR-EPIC

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DSCOVR is a spacecraft positioned in the Lagrangian point L1 between the Sun and Earth. It carries the EPIC camera that continuously takes images of Earth in 10 wavelengths from 317nm to 780 nm in rotation.

The Moon can appear in EPIC images, and flat-Earthers incorrectly use the color fringing around the Moon to dismiss the images as fake. In reality, the full-color images are composite of three single-color images taken in consecutive exposures in a one-minute span. As a result, the Moon had shifted in the time span and not perfectly aligned in the different exposures, causing the color-fringing after the images are composited together.

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Perspective of Earth Due to Different Observer Distance

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Because of a perspective effect, an observer in space can see more of Earth’s surface if they are farther from Earth.

Flat-Earthers noticed the different visible Earth’s surface in different Earth images and used it to “prove” they are fake. In reality, it is just a perspective effect caused by the fact that the Earth was seen from a different observer distance.

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Constant Image Brightness in Images of a Total Lunar Eclipse

The images showing the progress of a lunar eclipse were taken in increasing exposures to compensate for the decrease in brightness. The exposure increase from full moon to totality can reach 12EV or 4000× increase in light-gathering power.

Images showing the progress of a lunar eclipse appear in a constant brightness, and flat-Earthers —presumably never seen it in person— use it to “prove” a lunar eclipse is not caused by Earth’s shadow. In reality, the images were kept in a constant brightness by increasing the exposure of the camera.

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Cloud Movements Seen From Space

Clouds are moved by the wind. The average wind speed at the altitude of clouds is only about 18–70 km/h, relatively slow compared to the size of visible Earth’s surface from space.

Flat-Earthers use the lack of an apparent cloud movement to discredit videos taken from space. In reality, the clouds are moving far too slowly to appear moving in videos taken from space. To observe the cloud’s motion, we need to speed up the video.

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ISS Size Compared to an Airplane in a Photograph

Flat-Earthers compared the apparent size of the ISS and an airplane that appeared in photographs and then incorrectly concluded that the ISS could not be 410 km above us. Their mistake was equating altitude with distance and failing to account for both the ISS’ and the airplane’s downrange distance.

If an airplane is at an altitude of 12 km, it does not mean its distance from an observer is also 12 km. Its altitude and distance are equal only if the airplane is directly above the observer. If the plane is not directly above, then its distance is greater than its altitude.

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Camera “Maximum Range”

There is no such thing as the “maximum range” in the specification of any camera. Just because a camera cannot see something at a certain distance, it does not mean it must not be able to see another thing farther away.

Flat-Earthers claim that the Moon cannot be 384400 km away because a camera cannot see another thing much closer than that. In reality, an object’s distance is not the only thing that determines if a camera can see it, but the object’s size also matters.

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Earthshine and Moon Phase

Earthshine is a glow in the dark areas of the Moon because sunlight reflects off Earth’s surface to the Moon’s night side. Earthshine can be easily observed with long-exposure photography.

Some flat-Earthers claim that the Moon is transparent or that it is not a sphere. By observing the earthshine using a camera with the correct exposure, we can easily disprove such claims.

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Interlaced Video and Deinterlacing

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Interlaced video is a technique for doubling the perceived frame rate of a video display without consuming extra bandwidth, especially with older display technology. With an interlaced video, a video frame is rendered twice, one after another, first for the odd-numbered lines and then for the even-numbered lines.

Flat-Earthers discovered objects appearing transparent in some footage from the ISS and use the fact as “evidence” the footage was faked. In reality, some of these artifacts are due to interlacing and the process of deinterlacing interlaced videos.

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Zooming at the Moon

At the longest zoom, the Nikon P1000 has a field of view of 0.2°, which is equivalent to 1342 km at the Moon’s distance.

Flat-Earthers zoomed their Nikon P1000 at the Moon and claimed that they could not find flags and landers from the Apollo missions. In reality, the smallest objects on the lunar surface they can observe using their cameras are large city-sized objects.

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Sun Glare

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Sunlight is very intense. It can cause glare to appear around the sun, and as a result, the sun can appear larger than its actual size. To observe the sun’s actual size, we need to eliminate the glare by reducing the camera’s exposure or using a solar filter.

During sunset, sunlight gradually becomes less intense, and sun glare gradually becomes smaller. If the glare is not eliminated, the sun can appear as if it is shrinking, and flat-Earthers incorrectly use it as “evidence” that the sun is moving away from us.

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Objects Obscured by Earth’s Curvature and Zoom Factor

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From an observer on a shore, the distance to the horizon is 5 km (3 miles), or more if the observer is higher. Therefore, Earth’s curvature obscures objects starting from that distance. If the objects are not large enough, we need an optical aid, like zooming in using a camera, to see them in the first place.

Flat-Earthers often show us wide-angle photos to demonstrate that objects are not obscured by Earth’s curvature. In reality, in such photos, objects far enough to be obscured by Earth’s curvature cannot be resolved. It is hard to see objects obscured by Earth’s curvature if the objects themselves are not visible in the picture.

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Coin on a Table “Experiment”

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Flat-Earthers performed the coin on a table “experiment” to “explain” how a sunset can occur on a flat Earth. Instead, it tells us more about their confirmation bias.

This is probably one of the most ridiculous flat-Earth arguments. It is so obviously wrong that many of us are having trouble explaining it and cannot accept that a member of the human race can fall for it.

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