Sunday, October 16, 2005
Friday, July 15, 2005
New THEMIS Image of Face and City
The THEMIS suite aboard the Mars Odyssey has returned a new picture of some now-familiar real-estate . . .
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
UFO Magazine's "War of the Worlds" Issue
UFO Magazine's "War of the Worlds" issue is on news-stands now. It includes a favorable overview of my Mars writing. (End self-promotion.)
Thursday, June 16, 2005
Seen and Unseen
My apologies for cross-posting (again), but I've posted my latest editorial on the Face on Mars/subjective perception controversy at Posthuman Blues.
Sunday, May 22, 2005
The End of SETI As We Know It?
When I was doing radio spots promoting my book I was asked a lot of dumb questions, mostly in keeping with the David Bowie/Spiders from Mars theme. But I remember one particularly good question, I think by a DJ in Dublin. Essentially, he wanted to know what business I had writing a book on scientific subjects since I had no formal scientific background. (Unlike Richard Hoagland, who didn't graduate college, I can't claim experience as a planetarium director or advisor to Walter Conkrite, nor can I claim to have inspired NASA with the idea to include messages on deep-space probes.)
The gist of my answer was: Who exactly is qualified to assess candidate artifacts on the Martian surface? The stark truth is that there are no experts. There are no "working teams" exploring this possibility (with the exception of the Society for Planetary SETI Research, of which I'm a member). There's no grant money, no exo-archaeological funds on NASA's Mars exploration budget. Unfortunately, what we do have are lots of pseudoskeptics content to cling to dated "straw man" arguments in order to keep the status quo afloat -- even if that means misrepresenting or ignoring contradictory data.
It's not just Mars, of course. We've allowed a handful of people, foremost among them Seth Shostak and Jill Tarter of the SETI Institute, to become veritable ambassadors for the aliens they pretend to understand so well, despite a pronounced, utter failure to provide the hard evidence they claim is so vital. We're assured that aliens can't get here from there -- essentially because we have yet to get there from here using primitive chemically fueled rocket technology. We're treated to endless assurances that extraterrestrials will choose to communicate via radio (for a host of anthropomorphic reasons too numerable to explore in the available space).
Worse, SETI personalities tell us -- again and again -- that radio contact with ETs in inevitable, even imminent . . . and when the deadlines expire, the mainstream media dutifully forgets. Consequently, we're subjected to an intellectually vacuous false dichotomy between brash, self-proclaimed debunkers and equally brash believers, typified by the already-infamous Peter Jennings UFO special (which some commentators expected to break the UFO documentary mold for reasons still unclear to me).
But the edifice is cracking under an onslaught of fresh ideas and new discoveries. SETI's cult-like grip is slowly but certainly weakening as scientists dare to suggest alternative methods by which alien beings might contact us (assuming they want to). From messages grafted into our DNA to communiques wafted through space in the form of tangible artifacts (up to and including autonomous robots capable of building copies of themselves from raw materials), a chorus of vital new theories and revised assumptions about our role in the Cosmos has insinuated itself into the mainstream, posing a grave challenge to SETI and rocking our existential foundations.
I think the scientific community, for all its jaded self-assurance and adherence to brittle paradigms, is unconsciously tiring of SETI's charade. And who wouldn't? We've managed, against all odds, to grant a technocratic minority the right to effectively speak on our behalf, to tell us what to expect, to define the parameters of a universe we have yet to adequately map. Almost unbelievably, we've allowed the consuming question of extraterrestrial intelligence to become boring, the stuff of ha-ha sound-bites and rote dismissals of anyone inclined to dissent.
But we have reached a turning point. And the assumed "rules" have been revealed to be unexpectedly pliant, suggesting a galaxy vastly more colorful than that painted by SETI's equations.
(This essay originally appeared at Posthuman Blues.)
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
South African Mystery Spheres and the Iapetus Enigma
I've posted an unabashedly speculative essay at Posthuman Blues ("South African Mystery Spheres and the Iapetus Enigma") that may interest Cydonian Imperative readers. The gist is that anomalous metal spheres unearthed in South Africa could conceivably be extraterrestrial artifacts.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
You can now leave comments on the Cydonian Imperative (beginning with "Emphatically Still a Face," below). I won't "moderate" reader comments, per se, but I welcome your input and feedback.
More Mars anomaly news items forthcoming.
Saturday, April 09, 2005
Emphatically Still a Face
NASA's Mars Odyssey craft has returned an impressive new photo of the Face on Mars. The short of it: It's still a face.
A face? Yes.
This image lobs a challenge into the laps of critics who maintain the Face is merely an un-face-like mesa. Taken with the THEMIS camera in visible-light, the new snapshot of the Cydonia Mensae region (which includes a portion of the controversial D&M Pyramid in the lower-left) shows a scattering of amorphic mesas and knobs in the Face's vicinity, none of which approximate the Face's defining symmetry and anthropomorphism.
In recent years, debunkers have seized on high-resolution close-ups of the Face to demonstrate the feature's age-ravaged surface, implying the Face is a natural formation. This tactic completely neglects the hypothesis that the Face, if artificial, was constructed perhaps hundreds of thousands of years ago, in which case some degree of erosion is inevitable.
In return, advocates of the Artificiality Hypothesis have pointed to known artificial ruins on Earth (including the Pyramids and Sphinx) which, seen sufficiently close-up, can look tantalizingly natural. By providing a contextual view of the controversial "Martian Sphinx," the THEMIS image effectively "removes" superficial damage, underscoring the formation's anomalous humanoid appearance.
The conclusion is quite plain: The Face, whatever its origin, is very much face-like, despite the repeated "scotchings" doled out by the mainstream skeptical establishment.
The "nostril" in this early image is a transmission error. But better photos show an actual candidate nostril where one belongs if the Face is an anthropomorphic sculpture.
A popular debunking myth is that an early Viking image of the Face shows a dot thought by "Face enthusiasts" to be a nostril-like surface feature. While digital imaging processors intrigued by the Face knew perfectly well that the so-called "nostril" was simply a data transmission error, the prospect of an anthropomorphic "nose" appeared to be vindicated in 1998, when the Mars Global Surveyor took its first picture of the Face -- there actually is a nostril-like "pit" on the Face. More interestingly, it coincides with the Viking transmission error, suggesting the "will to believe" in a facial likeness is based in morphological reality.
In the new image, the candidate "nostril" on the Face's western half can be seen, along with further detail in keeping with the Artificiality Hypothesis.
Thursday, March 31, 2005
The ESA Photographs Cydonia
The Europeans Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter has captured a "widescreen" image of the Cydonia region. The image shows the Face, D&M Pyramid, City, Cliff, and other notable surface anomalies in disappointing resolution. Nevertheless, the sense of context is welcome.
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Down the Tubes?
A photo released by Malin Space Science Systems (see S03-00125p.gif) casts further doubt on the alleged artificiality of the Martian "tubes."
A three-dimensional tube? Not quite.
Alternately know as "tunnels," the features garnered intense interest after Richard Hoagland pointed out a striking example showing what appeared to be, on first take, a shiny spherical object embedded in a clear elastic carapace. Although subsequent shape-from-shading renderings strongly suggested that the seeming "tunnel" was in fact a series of natural-looking rilles (and not a three-dimensional "tube"), the sheer number of tunnel-like features invigorated an online community certain that high-resolution imagery from the Mars Global Surveyor would betray smoking-gun evidence of alien architecture on the Red Planet.
Seen up close, the supposedly arched "rungs" of a typical tube are less-than-impressive.
Despite the very un-intelligent placement of many candidate tubes, the prospect of an ancient civilization using a globe-circling network of enormous cylinders to transport water, material and/or personnel (a la Percival Lowell's illusory canals) continues to exert huge appeal. And while there are indeed regularly spaced bright markings on the Martian surface that await explanation, notably in the Cydonia region, the number of "false positives" has hindered objective analysis.
Unexplained bright markings atop the Cliff in Cydonia.
Tellingly, the tubes have become almost as well-known as standby surface anomalies such as the Face, and have become a staple interest among Mars-watchers with a planetary SETI bent. My first answer to those who inquire about the fabled "glass tubes" is that, contrary to their monicker, the features are neither glassy nor tubular. Of course, a vocal minority continues to claim otherwise.
An anomalous tube-like feature emanates from the eastern "wall" of the Fort.
As with the "banyan tree" formations cited by Arthur C. Clarke as evidence of thriving Martian plantlife, NASA/JPL has been mostly silent on the tubes, prompting conspiratorial allusions by Web-based commentators. The new image, with its inherent sense of disappointment, has already become the victim of "coverup" accusations; some see it as a digital scam designed to nullify public enthusiasm. (Such an act is not without precedent. When the Mars Global Surveyor transmitted the first detailed image of the Face in 1998, JPL hurriedly subjected the picture to a high-pass filter that helped stifle the feature's humanoid likeness.)
Tuesday, February 08, 2005
The Biggest Planetary Anomaly Yet?
Richard Hoagland, after viewing the Cassini spacecraft's exquisite images of Saturn's moon Iapetus, has ventured the seemingly outlandish notion that the moon is not what it appears upon casual inspection. Rather, Hoagland asserts in a new edition to his website, Iapetus is an artificial world -- a literal spaceship masquerading as a crater-pocked moon.
His evidence is a mixed bag of genuine anomaly and overzealous pixel-chewing that supposedly shows indicting structural detail -- despite the inherent limitations of spacecraft image resolution. The latter technique is likely to be drearily familiar to even occasional Enterprise visitors. But there's no denying the eccentricity that forms his model's skeleton.
Iapetus has long been an object of mystery; before visited by robot probes, its "yin-yang" coloration prompted mainstream scientists to wonder if an extraterrestrial intelligence had modified the moon to function as a celestial beacon. And as Hoagland takes pains to note, Arthur C. Clarke's novel "2001: A Space Odyssey" culminates in a psychedelic rendezvous with an alien monolith on Iapetus.
Iapetus' "Great Wall" is visible in this photo taken by the Cassini orbiter.
Cassini's new images -- vastly more refined that its mechanical predecessors' -- show a wall-like uplift that extends across Iapetus' surface, tantalizingly near the moon's equator. And while the European Space Agency has hazarded geological explanations, all seem witheringly quaint compared to Hoagland's reconstruction, which contends the wall isn't the product of natural forces but the work of "god-like" megascale engineers.
And that's not all. Hoagland meticulously notes internal features in the "Great Wall" that appear eerily manufactured, craters and depressions that he interprets as structural decay, and honeycomb-like terrain that bears at least a superficial resemblance to architectural forms.
In this over-contrasted photo, the sun-lit portion of Iapetus reveals an anomalous faceted effect.
Moreover, Hoagland stresses the Saturnian moon's atypical shape; rather than a sphere, Iapetus is a pronounced ellipse. While this could conceivably be the result of tidal forces, celestial mechanics are less suited to explain evident faceting along Iapetus' limb, seen above. Hoagland goes on to liken Iapetus' weird angularity to a sort of cosmic Epcot Center, insinuating a (mostly) hidden interior held together by a vast Platonic tress-work.
What are we to make of this?
Fortunately, many of Hoagland's claims can be verified. For example, the "Great Wall" really is an enigma, not a false unknown. According to a European Space Agency website, "The most unique, and perhaps most remarkable feature discovered on Iapetus in Cassini images is a topographic ridge that coincides almost exactly with the geographic equator. The ridge is conspicuous in the picture as an approximately 20-kilometre wide band that extends from the western (left) side of the disc almost to the day/night boundary on the right. On the left horizon, the peak of the ridge reaches at least 13 kilometres above the surrounding terrain. Along the roughly 1300-kilometre length over which it can be traced in this picture, it remains almost exactly parallel to the equator within a couple of degrees. The physical origin of the ridge has yet to be explained."
Hoagland's conspiratorial allusions to H.G. Wells and his implicit assumption that Arthur C. Clarke somehow knew what to expect are less impressive. Nevertheless, there's an element of genuine strangeness on Iapetus that speaks volumes. My hope is that the scientists at Cassini's helm will look closer -- and muster the courage to advance unpopular hypotheses if the evidence warrants.
Saturday, January 15, 2005
Itemized "Debunking" Tactics
Sorry for the cross-post, but clicking here will take you to a carefully itemized list of common Face on Mars "debunking" tactics. Enjoy!
Friday, December 24, 2004
A Puddle of . . . What?
Many of those following the Mars Exploration Rover mission have puzzled over a recent photograph that appears to show a shallow pool of water or mud in the foreground.
The finding is similar to the so-called "Magic Carpet" encountered by Spirit shortly after bouncing to a landing. But whereas the possible moisture at the Spirit landing site appeared to take the form of subsurface mud, the "puddle" viewed by Opportunity looks remarkably like standing water -- a supposed impossibility on a cold, low-pressure world like Mars. So what does the image show?
Possible subsurface water leaking onto the Martian surface.
Although I'm not ruling out water, ice or mud (or some combination thereof), it's likely we're seeing a deposit of fine dust. A shallow film of dust would help explain the puddle's smooth surface texture. On the other hand, recent claims of volcanic activity on Mars, and the relatively high-pressure depths of the Valles Marineris canyon system, supply mechanisms that could spawn short-lived flows. If the Opportunity image does show water, liquid or ice, then we're perhaps incredibly lucky to see it before it could boil away into the atmosphere.
Occam's Razor would suggest we're seeing particulates wafted into place by wind, but our history of discovery on the Red Planet advises against premature conclusions.
Monday, December 20, 2004
A New Image of Cydonia
Malin Space Science Systems has unveiled a new Cydonia image taken by the Mars Global Surveyor. Taken in November, the image has only recently appeared on the Web.
According to MSSS, "The Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) Public Target Request Site began collecting public and science community suggestions for MOC narrow angle imaging on 20 August 2003. Suggested targets are incorporated into the MGS MOC operational database at Malin Space Science Systems. There, they wait until a time in the future when MGS is predicted to pass over the requested site. When the predicted ground track intersects a site of interest, the MOC operations team determines the best way to acquire the requested image, then commands the camera to do so. Several days later, the image is acquired and returned to Earth."
The new Cydonia image is relatively uninteresting, showing various craters, knobs and buttes that litter the controversial region. After a careful viewing, I see none of the oddity that characterizes the Face and anomalies in its vicinity. The two vaguely pyramidal formations look natural and, disappointingly, lack the "starfish" aspect of the City Pyramid and D&M.
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
Good News, Mars-Watchers
Ultra-sharp, Mars-Bound HiRISE Camera Delivered
"The camera that will take thousands of the sharpest, most detailed pictures of Mars ever produced from an orbiting spacecraft was delivered today for installation on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter."
What will the MRO's camera reveal about anomalous formations such as the Face and D&M Pyramid . . . ?
Friday, December 03, 2004
Mars Was Wet; Now Let's Move On . . .
Conditions on vast plain on Mars could have been suitable for life, Cornell rover scientist Squyres states in special Science issue
"Now a Cornell University-led Mars rover science team reports on the historic journey by the rover Opportunity, which is exploring a vast plain, Meridiani Planum, and concludes with this observation: 'Liquid water was once present intermittently at the martian surface at Meridiani, and at times it saturated the subsurface. Because liquid water is a key prerequisite for life, we infer that conditions at Meridiani may have been habitable for some period of time in martian history.'"
Thursday, December 02, 2004
The threat from life on Mars
"Jeffrey Kargel of the US Geological Survey said that protection of our own planet from alien forms of life requires the assumption that Martian life exists. 'Before proceeding with sample returns or human missions to Mars, we must review measures for planetary biological protection.'"
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Here's the Scoop
A local Kansas City newsmagazine has printed an interesting article about me, my book ("After the Martian Apocalypse") and some of the outre theories that have become entwined with issue of extraterrestrial archaeology. Click here to read it.
Friday, November 12, 2004
Enigmatic Phobos in High-Resolution
Mars moon emerges from the dark
The ESA's best-yet image of Mars' largest moonlet.
"Scientists hope to explain the origin of a network of grooves that extend from the equator to the north pole."
I've proposed that the strange grooves that riddle Phobos' surface may be the work of intelligence -- specifically, the relics of mass-launchers once used to steer Phobos through space.
Before the grooves were detected, the Martian moons' unusual orbits suggested they may be chambered or hollow. Even Carl Sagan entertained the possibility that Mars' moons were artificial bodies of some sort before early photos showed them to be rocky and irregular. But "irregular" doesn't mean the moons are necessarily natural. Perhaps, like the asteroidal habitats conceived by Gerard K. O'Neill, Phobos possesses an artificially modified interior.
Phobos: Space-rock or extraterrestrial artifact?
Surface anomalies such as the "cones" and "Monolith" formation discovered by Efrain Palermo argue that Phobos' origin and formation may not be completely understandable in naturally derived models.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Martian Life Increasingly Likely
Searching for E.T.: Possibility of Life on Mars
"Kral and his colleagues recently published a paper detailing their work with a class of organisms known as methanogens -- methane-producing organisms that some scientists believe may hold the key to whether or not Mars conditions can support life. For the past several years, Kral and his colleagues have been testing the organisms' ability to survive under Mars-like conditions."
Martian exobiology has followed a compelling trajectory. First, it was thought merely possible that Mars had life -- in the remote geological past. Then it was thought probable that Mars once harbored life.
Later, scientists realized it was entirely possible that Mars was home to extant lifeforms instead of mere fossils. More recently, with the discovery of methane in the Martian atmosphere, it seems the case for contemporary Mars life has shifted into the "probable" phase.