Inside the Pluto 'Truther' Movement, Which Claims Flyby Was Faked

A so-called Truther movement questions the authenticity of the New Horizons images of Pluto. NASA New Horizons/Handout via Reuters/REUTERS

Updated | Images of Pluto, beamed billions of miles to Earth from the New Horizons spacecraft this week, appear to reveal new details about the surface of the dwarf planet. But a group of individuals says the images are fake and that NASA staged the flyby. Major historic moments often inspire conspiracy theories, and bloggers have dubbed this one the Pluto Truther movement.

A man who goes by Crow Trippleseven questioned the initial Pluto images in a YouTube video last week that has garnered more than 50,000 views. "This is silliness and games and they are literally robbing the American people and then lying to them," he says of NASA in the video, which Gizmodo picked up. His argument: How is it that NASA's images of Pluto, supposedly taken from a only few million miles away, are of a poorer quality than those he took of Jupiter with his telescopic camera from 484 million miles away?

Referring to a photo of the New Horizons spacecraft, Crow says in the video it's "probably sitting in a Burbank, Hollywood soundstage somewhere." He adds: "If you want to see the real Pluto, I'm sorry to say, you've got to go to Disneyland."

Crow agreed to answer questions by email, provided that Newsweek published them only in a Q&A format. He declined to provide his real name, occupation or age, citing threats he says he has received.

Why keep your identity so secretive?

People would be surprised to learn just how much anger and hatred are leveled against people for simply making video clips with a different point of view. I have not totally hidden my identity and have said many things about work, past jobs and other things about myself. Even that I live in San Diego. What I do protect is my private life and my specific location and this is solely due to the number of threats I have received, and I would mention I have a wife who I try to shield from said anger and hatred. One of the first clips up on my channel was the lunar wave clip and the unwanted attention was soon to follow. I did not expect that and was stunned at the level of malice. Even people who said they lived in my area and would find me—and all because of video clips.

What exactly about the Pluto flyby do you believe is fake?

The Pluto mission is no different than any other NASA mission in my view. You may be aware that National Geographic recently ran what I consider damage control on the cover of their magazine belittling people who question the [first] moon landing. That is very telling and demonstrates just how many people are no longer accepting everything this government agency hands the public. This is very telling. I recently made a well researched clip on their Rosetta comet landing mission which demonstrates what we can expect from NASA on any given mission.

What would NASA or the U.S. government have to gain by faking the flyby?

Maybe the truth is that NASA cannot do as much as we have been led to believe. It is a hard thing to know. Why does any government lie to its people? While there seems to be no simple answer here, it does seem to be the way of things. Governments lie and always have.

Do you see this as part of a larger conspiracy involving NASA?

I do not see any difference when considering NASA, governments or news for that matter. We live in an age of power and deception. I do see a difference in the number of people who are no longer blind to this fact. An awakening is, in fact, under way in this regard.

How do you feel about the term "truther"?

Online the term is not respected by those who do actual research and investigation. It is viewed as controlled opposition and an easy way to place the conspiracy tag on a group. Good information seems to be coming from individuals who belong to no group these days. After all, once a group is formed it is an easy target. A group can be labeled, manipulated and belittled very easily. This is the age of the individual who researches, observes and offers up what they can in the face of a 24-hour news cycle designed to hypnotize and misinform.

This wasn't the first time Crow has questioned NASA's version of the cosmos. In addition challenging the Rosetta Mission comet landing last year, in October, the Huffington Post picked up a video he made that appeared to show an unidentified flying object hovering across the surface of the moon.

Another so-called Pluto Truther, Justin Shaw of Alberta, Canada, has posted on Twitter about the New Horizons images and says there is no doubt in his mind that they are computer-generated. "The whole mission is fallacious. There's no authenticity to this at all," he says. "People don't think twice about it. They're looking for a best answer, they're given a best answer, and they go with it as if it's a reality."

When asked what NASA would have to gain by faking its missions, he says: "I'm not sure what their motive would be to be faking it, other than deception. We have a lot of tax money that's disappearing for who knows what reason."

Shaw doubts the entire NASA space program, including the moon landings. His theory goes: If space is a vacuum, how could spacecraft traverse it? And if it is not a vacuum, but full of debris, why would governments spend so much money sending people and high-tech gear into it? "That's a pretty big gamble," he says.

Not only should the public question the authenticity of these images, he says, but it should also reconsider basic teachings such as whether the Earth is round or rotates at all.

As for why he feels the need to set the record straight, Shaw says, "I'm tired of the lies and the deception that they're playing against us. I have children and it's very important that I leave this world not as messed up as I entered it."

A representative for NASA didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, says by email: "It's difficult to respond in detail to statements that make no sense."

Correction: This article previously referred to Pluto as a "microplanet." NASA classifies it as a dwarf planet.

This article has been updated to specify which moon landings were referred to by sources.​