The Half-Astrophysicist Blog

On the Reliability of Eyewitness Accounts

You would think that big events would be easy to remember.  And you would go to some lengths to be sure your memory was good if you were writing for a nationally syndicated magazine.

This week’s USA Weekend Magazine has a story where various celebrities recall where they were when Apollo 11 landed.  Kareem Abdul-Jabar recalls visiting Trinidad during that time and says people took out their telescopes to look at the Moon since there was no television (at least he says they did not see Apollo!  Our telescopes just can’t do that!)

His closing line is where the problem comes in.  “I’ll never forget how full and bright the moon looked that night — how much of a sense of accomplishment you felt by looking at it.”

The problem is that he obviously forgot.  It doesn’t take much to find out the Moon phase that day was a waning crescent, not full!  The Full Moon in July of 1968 occurred on the 10th, a 10 days before the Apollo Moon landing.

This memory lapse probably seems minor in the cosmic scheme of things and, well, it is.  However, it would be good to bear in mind that even big events that you can “never forget” frequently happened much differently than you might remember.

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July 12, 2009 - Posted by | NASA

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