5.24 Why is this astronaut’s shadow missing?

IN A NUTSHELL: Because he was jumping when the snapshot was taken and so his shadow is displaced sideways and isn’t visible in cropped versions of the picture; full versions show it clearly.

THE DETAILS: The photograph shown in Figure 5.24-1 is often claimed by hoax theorists to be fake because the astronaut quite conspicuously lacks a shadow.

Figure 5.24-1. The allegedly faked shadowless saluting astronaut.

A patient search through the Apollo image archives reveals that it’s a cropped version of photo AS16-113-18339, taken during the Apollo 16 mission by Charlie Duke. It portrays his commander, John Young, as he salutes the flag.

Knowing the context in which the picture was taken provides the answer to the missing shadow. As noted in the mission reports and transcripts, and as recorded by the video footage of the mission, Young jumped vertically during the salute and Duke caught him in midair in the photograph. That’s why there’s no shadow at Young’s feet: the shadow is displaced downwards and to the viewer’s right, as occurs normally when someone is photographed during a vertical leap with a low sun angle.

An uncropped scan of the photograph (Figure 5.24-2) shows that the astronaut does indeed cast a shadow in the center right portion of the picture.

Figure 5.24-2. Detail of photo AS16-113-18339. John Young’s shadow is displaced towards the right because the picture was taken while he was jumping vertically.

John Young’s leap was seen by the TV camera mounted on the Rover and was televised live to Earth (Figure 5.24-3).

Figure 5.24-3. Live color TV of John Young’s jump on the Moon, from the documentary Nothing so Hidden.