North Korea May Have Put Fake Stars In Its Missile Photos, But It’s Not Clear Why


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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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North Korea appears to have tampered with the photos from its latest ballistic missile test, adding in fake stars for reasons unknown, an expert asserts.

Dr. Marco Langbroek, a space expert, revealed to CNN that many of the constellations seen in the pictures released by North Korean state media were, according to his observations, noticeably out of place. “You should see constellations that are opposites in the sky. That is not the case,” he explained, furthering an analysis that began on Twitter.

North Korea tested the new Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile last Tuesday, demonstrating previously unseen capabilities, including the theoretical ability to strike anywhere in the continental U.S. Langbroek discovered the oddities while participating in a geolocation project with other experts trying to identify the site from which North Korea launched the missile.

Langbroek first became suspicious when he noticed that the stars were visible in photos of the missiles moving into space. Photographers typically use a longer exposure to shoot stars. This approach would cause moving objects, like a missile soaring into space, to appear blurry. To capture the missile’s ascent, the North Korean photographers likely used a wide-open aperture and fast shutter speed, that would prevent the stars from showing up clearly.

Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, questioned the photographs almost immediately after they were released.

It is unclear why North Korea would change the stars in the pictures.

There is the possibility that Pyongyang sought to confuse open-source analysts who geolocate North Korean missiles, but Langbroek suggests that the modifications were made with aesthetics in mind. “The launch certainly took place, but I think they wanted some images to look prettier than they did,” he wrote on Twitter.

“I think somewhat just wanted to make it pretty. I doubt there’s anything deeper here,” McDowell wrote.

North Korea has a history of editing images for aesthetic purposes, including North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s ears. The North does not appear to have altered the missile in the pictures, just the stars in the background. “It looks like they just cut out a star background and put it on to make it look cool,” Langbroek told CNN.

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