4 Major Conspiracy Theories Debunked by Lighting Facts

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I’ll let you in on a secret –I love a good conspiracy theory. I wouldn’t say I necessarily believe every theory that I come across, but they are fun to consider. Like, I’m sorry, but you can never convince me that Mothman isn’t out there somewhere (Why else would my boyfriend disappear between 2-4AM every night?).  

But then there are some of the more commonly disputed conspiracy theories that get thrown around and I have to wonder—do people actually believe them? Studies show that the conspiracy rabbit hole is hard to get out of, even when there is evidence against it. That said, I want to look at some of the most common conspiracy theories across the nation and use the thing we at Sunco know the most about to disprove and debunk them: Light! 


The Moon Landing was a Hoax 

Conspiracy theorists argue that NASA staged the moon landing in a film studio. They claim that there are tell-tale signs in the footage and the photos that give the game away. They also claim that NASA has covered up the elaborate hoax ever since. For example, in images from the moon landing, it is possible to see certain objects even though they are in shadow. Skeptics argue that if the sun were the only source of light, this wouldn’t be the case. Therefore, the fact that you can see some objects in shadow must be the result of special Hollywood lighting.

The best way to address this theory is to look at the biggest light source we have: the sun. Although the sun is the main source of illumination on the moon, it isn’t the only source of light. Another source is the lunar ground, which reflects the sun’s light. Think of the moon’s surface like a blanket of white snow. On a sunny day, snow can be absolutely blinding, as the sun is reflected off of the ground. The lunar surface is dusty and white, much like a blanket of snow, allowing sunlight to easily refract from the dirt. 

In the Apollo 11 pictures, the light from the sun is creating shadows, just like it does on earth. In photos, shadows obscure the area in which they fall. However, since the moon’s surface is reflective and white, the sunlight gets scattered off the ground. This creates a secondary light source, which can illuminate parts of the shadows that, on Earth, would normally be completely black. This is why, in some images of the moon landing, the shadows look less dark than they should be.  


UFO Sightings 

I do always say, anything can be a UFO if you’re bad enough at identifying things. But in most cases, UFO conspiracy theorists genuinely believe that we’ve been visited by aliens. There are hundreds of people all around the world that claim to have seen alien aircrafts and other UFOs and many who even claim to have been abducted. 

The U.S government had always been in the business of dismissing these sightings up until about a year ago. In 2023, government officials claimed to have knowledge about what they now refer to as “unidentified anomalous phenomena,” or UAPs.  

I find the change of vernacular from UFO to UAP to be interesting. From “Object” to “Phenomena”, officials have eliminated the idea that these sightings are things, but rather occurrences. This gives people the understanding that perhaps they aren’t seeing a physical object in the sky, but perhaps a weather phenomenon or trick of the light. 

For example, On March 13, 1997, thousands of witnesses reported seeing a series of mysterious lights forming a distinct V-shaped pattern in the night sky over Arizona. Many believed this to be the work of extraterrestrials. However, it has since been debunked as a combination of a full moon reflecting off of Airforce flares from military training. I could talk your ear off about light refraction, but in simple terms, it’s the bending of light when it passes from one transparent substance to another. It also happens with water, sound and other waves.

This distortion can cause optical illusions that appear farther away from or closer to the viewer. These also can account for mirrored images in clouds, as clouds are mostly made out of water, which is a major source of light refraction. Several UAP sightings have been debunked by firework displays, as well as spotlights from far away.  

Ghosts and Ghouls 

Two out of five Americans believe in ghosts, while one out of five even claim to have encountered one. While, current science can’t prove that there are spirits walking through walls or screaming below floorboards, spooky sightings can certainly feel real. Humans have been spotting ghosts for as long as we’ve been around, and to some degree we can explain why.   

While there is a mental component to this, such as lack of sleep, anxiety, or grief, we can also look at sightings caught on film and debunk them with science. Electromagnetic fields and light refraction (hey there's that word again) play major roles in causing the human brain to see things that aren’t really there.  

The presence of light, no matter how faint, also presents the possibility of shadows, which catch with the light, causing many to believe that the dark silhouettes that they see are moving. Moonlight through trees, flickering fire, and even a dim lamp can cause tricks of the light, which may give shadows the illusion of life. We humans are used to our senses giving us accurate information about the world, so when we catch something out of the corner of our eye, our first instinct is usually to believe it. 

An example of light phenomena causing belief in the paranormal is the Paulding Light. In a small town in Michigan, there is a strip of land where people can go to see little shimmering orbs floating in the distance, night after night. It’s become a tourist attraction, as people like to think that these orbs are spirits. 

However, scientists who have studied the lights suggest that the geography and local weather around the viewing path supports frequent temperature inversions in the early evening when there's always traffic on the highway. The result is an "upside-down" optical illusion – car headlights from the pole line of view in Paulding lining up with the highway while refracting and bending back toward the ground. The effect happens to be uniquely visible from the spot where fans gather. 

The Earth is Flat  

Okay so I guess the theory varies from completely flat to dome-shaped but the one commonality behind the “flat Earth theory” is that the planet is not a globe. Of all the conspiracy theories that I’ve found on the Internet, the flat Earth conspiracy is quite possibly the most curious. After all, the ancient Greeks figured out the planet's shape (and even its circumference) in the third century B.C.  

These believers in this theory claim that the Earth is a flat disc, and that evidence that it is round — say, pictures taken from space — are an elaborate hoax involving multiple governments. They even made a documentary about it, titled Behind the Curve. In the documentary, flat earther, Mark Sargent talks about his belief, stating, 

"The reason why I believe that we're winning against ‘science’ is that science just throws math at us. It doesn’t show us the facts." Sargent and other proponents of a Flat Earth believe that our planet is covered by a gigantic dome, with the sun and moon rotating in circles above our heads. Antarctica isn't a unified continent, but rather, a giant ice wall—just like in Game of Thrones, Sargent says—that surrounds the continents of Earth. 

We can disprove this by looking at the shape and size of the sun, as well as our planet’s movements around it. Even though we can’t just go into space and see the movement of the Earth around the sun for ourselves, we can still watch this in action from the ground. If you have hills or mountains to your East, watch them during the sunset. Once the sun rays disappear behind the horizon, you are still able to see the sun shining onto the hills.  

This effect is similar to the classic ship sailing off in the distance reference. If a ship sailed off onto a flat ocean, you would see the entire ship disappearing into a pinpoint. Instead, what happens is the ship seems to ‘sink’ into the ocean, the same way the sun sinks behind the horizon, yet still shines onto mountainsides and up into the clouds above.  

What Do You Think?  

Sometimes, believing in something that seems crazy can be kind of fun (Mothman, I love you), but I think that at the end of the day, light-based science tends to offer an explanation for the unexplained. Films, television, and other media love to run with these wild conspiracy theories, which can perpetuate belief in the unbelievable. And now that we have the internet to connect us, discussing your favorite conspiracy theory has never been easier. 

I’m not a MythBuster, Ghostbuster, or any other kind of buster. I’m simply providing the lighting facts. What about you? Are you a believer in the paranormal? The supernatural? The vanity of the U.S government? Let us know which conspiracy theories you believe in and maybe next time we’ll see if we can use light theory to debunk it.  

1 comment

  • Posted on by Chrissy
    LOL Moth man

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