Don't jump to conclusions! That's the lesson of this story, and of any story that appears online making wild claims about alien structures found on the moon or Mars or anywhere else in our galactic neighborhood.
On Feb. 1, the British news site, Express, reported an "extraordinary claim" -- that UFO chasers had supposedly discovered a tremendous, nearly 4-mile-high artificial spire "bursting out from the surface of the moon" (see image above).
Bold statement, indeed. But was this alleged structure built by the hand -- or at the command -- of some extraterrestrial creature?
A popular tool that many UFO researchers use is Google Earth-Moon, which lets you "fly" all over the lunar surface in the same way that you can surf our home planet.
A YouTube channel, Mexicogeek, was cruising around Google Moon, and came upon the dubious lunar structure and posted this video:
At first glance, the object in question does look like a tall tower, and the visible angle almost makes it seem 3-dimensional. But is it really?
Then, the UFO Sightings Daily site -- that generally promotes an alien explanation for many of the things it presents -- got in on the action.
"The spire looks to be coming out of the center of a crater, but these are not craters, but many small white shiny structures. The spire was probably built to accommodate a very large vessel so that it could dock safely without landing," according to Sightings Daily's Scott Waring, who further claims, "I created this site to help the UFO community get a little bit organized."
Organized, or more confused?
The following Google Moon composite image shows exactly where this "spire" is on the moon:
In the midst of all this confusion, is there a possible voice of reason that can offer anything more plausible than a miles-high alien landing pad?
"That's no spire! What is going on is that there is a small crater that formed on the rim, after the larger crater, Mersenius E," said Noah Petro, deputy project scientist for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission, currently orbiting the moon.
While some images shown here are from Google Earth (and photographed by the Clementine mission, which orbited the moon in the 1990s), Petro provided Huffington Post with newer, clearer Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) images.
The composite image below shows the same object: on the left, from Google Earth, and the right is from the LROC.
"So, let's talk about those bright craters," Petro said in an email to HuffPost. "The LROC team has produced an image mosaic of the moon's surface when the sun is high in the sky [the right-side image above].
"Part of the Clementine mission image [left side of above image] shows a 'seam' between two images that were mosaiced together to form the larger view. In the high sun images, the bright craters are more easily seen, but there's nothing there that is unusual compared to any other areas on the moon."
But what about the notion that the "spire" looks 3-dimensional, depending on how you turn the perspective of the picture? The next LROC low-sun images put a damper on all of that, especially when the spire seems to disappear.
"The sun is so low on the horizon [in the right side image above] such that the dimple in the crater wall casts a shadow on the eastern wall of the crater," said Petro. "There is a dark cascade of material falling down into the larger crater, likely caused by material falling into the crater floor.
"No spire there, so yes, it's an optical illusion."
It's worth noting here that another YouTube channel, SecureTeam10, which bills itself as "your source for the best in new UFO sighting videos, information on the government coverup and alien activity caught on tape," also claims that the lunar "spire" is just one of many towering structures there, "but we do know there's alien activity happening on the moon."
Of course, anything is possible. But we're going to first need proof.