London, Nov. 24: Conspiracy theorists, you have a problem. In an effort to silence claims that the Apollo moon landings were faked, European scientists are to use the world’s newest and largest telescope to see whether remains of the spacecraft are still on the lunar surface.
For years, doubters have claimed that Nasa, the US space agency, spent billions of dollars faking the landings to convince the world that it had beaten the Soviet Union to the moon.
A host of supposed evidence has been put forward, ranging from the absence of stars on any photographs taken by the astronauts to the fact that the Stars and Stripes they planted seemed to flutter in a vacuum.
Earlier this month, Nasa tried to put an end to the controversy by commissioning a definitive account of the evidence for the landings. Days later, it dropped the idea after criticism that it was wasting money by taking on the lunatic fringe: naturally, this only boosted claims that the space agency was trying to hide something.
The row even boiled over into personal conflict in September when police in Beverly Hills were called in to investigate claims that Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin — the second man on the moon — punched a conspiracy theorist who accused him of lying about the landings.
Now astronomers hope to kill off the conspiracy theory once and for all by using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) — by far the most powerful telescope in the world — to spot the Apollo lunar landers.
Operated by European astronomers in the Chilean Andes, the VLT consists of four mirrors 27ft across linked by optical fibres. It can see a single human hair at a distance of 10 miles.
Trained on the moon, such astonishing resolution should enable it to see the base of one or more of the six lunar modules which Nasa insists landed on the moon between 1969 and 1972. Any images of the modules would be the first not to have been taken from space by Nasa.
Dr Richard West, an astronomer at the VLT, confirmed that his team was aiming to achieve “a high-resolution image of one of the Apollo landing sites”.
The first attempt to spot the spacecraft will be made using only one of the VLT’s four telescope mirrors.