Conspiracy theorists love photo effects.   If you want to see a man on Mars, you will eventually find it.  But if NASA cleans up an image and then posts it, and then a high-contrast photo makes the rather weak lighting look like some anthropomorphized UFO, well, it's a conspiracy.

Face on Mars. Viking mission 1976
Man on Mars.   Credit: NASA

man on Mars
Another man on Mars.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University

The latest conspiracy involves a photo of  Saturn's moons Dione and Titan taken by NASA's Cassini orbiter.  Like most NASA photos, it was cleaned up before posting for the public.

The Internet went ... well, not crazy, but a little deep into the make-believe woods.  Here is what they are talking about:

NASA Saturn moons Titan and Dione conspiracy theory photoshop
UFO, if you want to believe it.  Credit: NASA

See for Emily Lakdawalla's account of why the editing made sense.
"Cassini takes color pictures by snapping three sequential photos through red, green and blue filters," she said. "In the time that separated the three frames, Dione moved, so if I did a simple color composite I would be able to make Titan look right, but not Dione; or Dione look right, but not Titan."

"So I aligned Dione, cut it out, and then aligned Titan," Lakdwalla explained, "and then had to account for the missing bits of shadow where the bits of Dione had been in two of the three channels."


It's much more fun to think that literal Titans or Klingons or whatever are perched out there in a Death Star-sized ship and NASA doesn't want to set off a worldwide panic but some oppressed underdog will reveal the truth and then a group of heroes will have to go fight them.

Bruce Willis is getting a little old for that sort of movie role, but I am totally available.