Sayedee's Face on the Moon - Astronomers' Nightmare

Published on Wednesday, March 6, 2013

You ask how is it possible that in the year of 2013, people could be fooled to see a convicted killer's face on the moon. But that's what the Jamaat propaganda has accomplished. In the early hours of Sunday morning, in many parts of Bangladesh, Jamaat activists announced, using loudspeakers, that the image of Sayedee could be seen on the moon. The idea is so preposterous that, even in medieval times, this would not get any traction. But in twenty-first century Bangladesh, it did.

We laughed at the outrageous idea and made fun of the ridiculous photoshop-ed image of Sayedee posted in the Jamaati site Basherkella. Unfortunately, the atrocious call was sufficient to get people out of their houses and infused them with enough Jihadi energy for an early morning rampage. Villagers marched to attack a police station. As a consequence, in Bogra, several people were killed. Sad indeed.

How is this possible? This defies all logic, even Jamaati logic. What does the future hold for a country where thousands can be tricked into believing something so absurd? The Daily Star reports several people called the newspaper to determine the veracity of the sighting. Are the people in Bangladesh so gullible? What is the state of education in the country?

Before I became aware of the Bogra mayhem, I was doing a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation for the amount of energy to create a visible image on the moon. It is necessary to project this energy (light) on the moon so that it would be visible from the earth. The numbers are astronomical, because to put an image on the moon that would be visible from here, you have to match the solar flux at the moon.

The total solar power received over the face of the moon is about 1016 watts (ten thousand terawatt). That's 16 zeroes after one. One terawatt is 1,000 gigawatt or 1,000 billion watts. The moon has an albedo of about 0.12, that means about 12% of the solar light is reflected off the lunar surface and on March 2nd evening about 75% of the moon was illuminated. All this means, on that fateful night, the total lunar power was about 1015 watts (one thousand terawatt).

Now, how are you going to project a picture of Sayedee on the moon? Let's use a LCD or multimedia projector. How much energy does the bulb need? About 10^16 watts (ten thousand terawatt).

We are going to assume that the projector beam can be approximated with a very narrow pencil beam so that, as it arrives at the moon, it spreads out just enough to cover the entire moon. The moon has a radius of about 1737 km. We are not going to take into account any light absorption within our atmosphere. We are also assuming there is no other energy loss during transmission.

This means we would need an LCD projector of 10^16 watts. Remember, the moon has to reflect this light to make it visible for us.

What is the total power output of the entire world? 2,300 gigawatt or 2.3 terawatt. That is 2300 x 109 or 2.3 x 1012 watts. Hence, even if we pumped the entire world energy generated per second to our projector, it would have fallen short of the needed wattage or energy by a factor of 5000. (The 5000 number will be much higher if we had taken into account the atmospheric extinction and the directional albedo of the moon.)

So even the energy generated by the entire world will not be capable of reproducing a speck of Sayedee's red beard on the moon.

Of course, 2.3 x 10^12 watts of power will instantly vaporize the projector, computer, the operators and the entire installation.

But when people believe in divine intervention, all these calculations are beside the point.

PS: Without the aid of telescopes, in the past, people in certain parts of the world did imagine a man's face on the moon. I found one of them in the Wikipedia pages. The features of the face are mostly given by the dark material of the lunar maria. If anything, this man's face looks like a human skull, maybe not far from Sayedee's true image. Man_in_the_Moon_with_key (1)

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