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Infrared Images and Underground Cities on Mars: A Status Report

For followers of Richard Hoagland and Mike Bara's "Enterprise Mission," the last month has been a head-spinning feast of claims and accusations, followed by the release of purported "proof" of extraterrestrial architecture on Mars.

Despite the counter-claims and general bickering that have taken up so much time (and bandwidth) on the Enterprise Conference BBS (and elsewhere), the important question is remarkably straight-forward: Is the so called "real" THEMIS infrared (IR) image what Hoagland claims or is it fake? As the controversy reaches a head, the latter option begins to overshadow the possibility that the IR image is the forever sought-after smoking gun.

Supposedly the THEMIS IR image cited by Hoagland was briefly and inconspicuously posted at the Arizona State University website, where breaking THEMIS images are routinely posted. Anomalist/image processor Keith Laney, acting on an "insider" tip from an individual claiming affiliation with ASU, downloaded the image in its original TIF format before ASU mysteriously retracted it, posting a less interesting image in its place.

The Fort looks out across an alleged buried city, as seen in false color.

By analyzing the downloaded image, Laney was able to bring out compelling detail: a gaudy false-color patchwork of rectilinear cells. Hoagland/Bara argue that these cells represent a vast underground substructure similar to anomalous features photographed by a Russian Mars probe in 1989.

Philip Christensen, head of the ASU THEMIS team, thinks the Enterprise claim is nonsense. "If you look at the image that is being purported and discussed, it's clearly been doctored," Christensen said in an MSNBC article, pointing out that evidence of filtering could be made out.

From the beginning, TEM has been adamant that the image in its possession is the original and that the version currently available on the ASU site is a deliberately substandard fraud. This certainty proved premature when Laney acknowledged that he had already manipulated the "original" TIF in an attempt to exhume detail before passing it on to Hoagland.

But is the "original" image downloaded by Laney (and apparently still lurking on his hard drive) objectively real? To address this question, one must take a careful look at the false-color enhancements at the Enterprise site. Specifically, are there correlations between the "underground infrastructure" and visible-wavelength surface topology?


The IR "underground" features smother the entirety of the image in psychedelic profusion, their placement seemingly random. Proponents of the IR data will point out that it's impossible to dismiss the alleged structures based on appearance. After all, if the substructure is real, then it is the work of alien engineering. Who's to say what it should look like? But at the same time, the apparently arbitrary placement of the substructural grid cannot be easily shrugged away.

Hoagland/Bara suggest that the tubular feature emerging from the eastern side of the Fort is duplicated in the THEMIS image. What they fail to see is that the IR "quilt" is riddled with lines of every conceivable length. The fact that one such line happens to correspond with a single known surface feature is hardly proof of authenticity.

To my mind, one clue that we're probably looking at a bogus image is that the cellular features seem to have nothing to do with anomalous formations such as the Fort, Face and D&M Pyramid, where one might expect evidence of underground structure. The quilt pattern continues uninterrupted to the far south, unimpeded by mountains and other variations in the terrain. If the substructure is real, it seems to predate Cydonia rather than compliment it. Perhaps it was constructed by a technology so advanced that obstacles (both below-ground and above) were rendered inconsequential, in which case one wonders why the Martians would bother with relatively tiny, vulnerable features such as the Fort in the first place.

While exotic interpretations are not strictly impossible, they leave a residue of nagging questions (i.e., Are we seeing two distinct phases of Martian architecture, the familiar "monuments" built on top of a buried necropolis?)

Or is it more likely that the doctored image is simply fake? It wouldn't be the first such attempt to deceive the anomalist community. I've encountered some clever false alarms (one of which stumped an experienced PhotoShop artist). And I've received my share of "insider revelations" from NASA employees seeking to fulfill private "X-Files" fantasies.

Of course, this doesn't prove that the image "leaked" to Laney is a fake. But it would be terribly naive to assume than an image is an accurate representation of reality simply because NASA (or, more probably, an ethically impaired agency employee working on his/her own time) says so. JPL's demonstrably false claims regarding the Face MOLA data should serve as both reminder and warning.

So where does this leave us? As of this writing, the Enterprise Mission clutches a doctored photo of unknown provenance and--astonishingly--claims it possesses incontestable proof of extraterrestrial intelligence. At best, this is a comic mockery of scientific method.

The original image--if it ever surfaces--may yet turn out to be for real. But until data of established origin is available for dissemination and review, arguing the implications of underground Martian installations is so much heated chatter, as anyone who's monitored the extended online discussion no doubt already knows. No amount of "Captain's Updates" will change the fact that TEM is not engaging in science, but rather a mutant discipline composed of proclamation and supposition, fueled by the insatiable need to be right regardless of contradictory evidence.

One can only applaud Hoagland's willingness to seek out the truth. But it's become increasingly difficult to watch TEM's shopworn and toothless arsenal dragged out to yet again defend inflated assumptions. If Hoagland's data is correct, then this is the biggest discovery in history and more than enough reason to justify a manned mission to Mars. But science isn't a one-man show, however convenient that may be for appearing on Art Bell's talk-radio program.

In that spirit, I call on the "insider" who started this controversy to come clean with the original imagery, if it exists, so that qualified scientists may examine it in a productive manner.


Martian Artifacts in Fiction: Bruce Balfour's "The Forge of Mars"


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"The Forge of Mars" is a fast-paced technothriller set in the 2050s, when Earth has begun colonizing Mars. When strange alien relics become the fulcrum for a conspiratorial powershift on Earth, a Navajo scientist finds himself caught in a tide of deceiving forces. For its length, Balfour's novel has a simple premise: megalomaniac Russians vs. NASA archaeologists on Mars. Balfour tosses in some potentially fascinating concepts (i.e., underground Russian bases and crashed alien spacecraft) but chooses to keep his story relatively conventional. Thus contact with interstellar war machines is useful only in the context of firepower; some of the "sense of wonder" typically instigated by "first contact" is avoided here. On the other hand, Balfour does an excellent job of showing us terrestrial technology in action, from virtual reality workstations to industrial nanotechnology. And the mechanics of spaceflight--as well as the hazardous beauty of the Martian landscape--are described with a certain eloquence. Yes, "The Forge of Mars" has its share of action-adventure cliches. But it's an interesting slant on Martian archaeology and a fun read on a level with Allen Steele's "Labyrinth of Night." Check out the novel's website at

For more Martian fiction, click here.


New Image of the Face Released

Malin Space Science Systems has released a new partial photo of the Face on Mars, viewable at the the following URL:

The new Face image. Note "eye" and "nostril" features.

The Face seen from directly overhead in 2001.

The Face appears at a rather disorienting (but revealing) "funhouse" angle due to imaging nadir. Other than that, everything seems to be in order. Even the "eye" remains clearly visible despite the bad resolution. Lan Fleming has noted that the east "nostril" seems to be more visible in this photograph than in the frontal 2001 image (see comparison above).

More analysis forthcoming.


Mark Carlotto on New Enigma

Cydonia research veteran Dr. Mark Carlotto has found an enticingly geometric accumulation of formations in Cydonia, only 120 kilometers from the newly reimaged Face.

Note conspicuous "square" and additional suggestions of deliberate architectural layout. Image courtesy Mark Carlotto.

The somewhat urban-looking collection shown above includes one large partial square that invites archaeological speculation. Geometric anomalies such as this--coupled with bizarre formations such as the D&M Pyramid and Face--lend weight to the possibility that this controversial region was once home to intelligent beings.

Carlotto notes that Cydonia seems to be the site of increased academic attention; despite probable hoaxes such as the THEMIS "underground city," it's just possible that mainstream science has begun to take note--albeit quietly--that Cydonia is an interesting piece of extraterrestrial real estate.

Carlotto's latest findings (including a new 3-D animation of the Face) can be found here:

Note: The Electric Warrior has maintained consistently excellent coverage of breaking Mars news. I encourage readers to check it out.


The "Cliff" Reimaged: New Discoveries

The feature known as the "Cliff" has been photographed in visible-wavelength light by the Mars Odyssey's THEMIS camera. This is our first look at the Cliff in its entirety since the Viking mission took its low-resolution scan of Cydonia in the 1970s; the previous high-resolution image taken by the Mars Global Surveyor featured a black swath indicating lost data (as described on a previous page).

The Cliff in context.

Though the new Cliff image is not as detailed as the MGS version, it provides more context. The nearby "splash" crater and its ejecta apron are plainly seen, confirming the Cliff's conspicuous placement: if the Cliff has existed prior to the impact, it should show obvious signs of damage. Since the Cliff appears unscathed, proponents of the Artificiality Hypothesis argue that it was assembled after the impact. This interpretation is supported by a network of shallow grooves extending from the eastern edge of the Cliff to the lip of the crater. These may be remnants of a quarry/construction site utilizing ejecta rubble for the Cliff's tapered base.

The new image casts doubt on the so-called "Tetrahedral Rim Pyramid." The Rim Pyramid, identified by Richard Hoagland and subsequently incorporated into his highly mathematical "Message of Cydonia," appears less-than-tetrahedral and more like a natural deviation in the crater lip. Regardless, lines extending from the center of the Tholus and through the Cliff and Rim Pyramid produce an angle of 19.5 degrees, a recurring motif in the Cydonia complex. Given the heavily weathered nature of some of the Mound features, perhaps the Rim Pyramid's amorphic condition should come as no surprise. Close-up images may tell us more.

Fort-like platform near Cliff. Image courtesy Bob Harrison.

Meanwhile, Bob Harrison of Cydonia Quest has brought my attention to a shallow, faceted formation north of the Cliff that shares a startling resemblance to the Fort. Partially buried rectilinear "cells" adorn at least one of the formation's edge. This prompts the question: if natural, shouldn't the "cells" have eroded away long ago? Like the Fort, the "Cliff Platform" exhibits signs of eroding from the inside-out. An alternative to this unlikely scenario is that the Cliff Platform has collapsed inward, leaving small-scale peripheral detail relatively intact.

Synthetic perspective imagery of the Fort reveals a sunken interior consistent with a structural implosion (a collapse of the sort thought to have deformed the eastern "chin" of the "Face"). The Cliff Platform may be an additional example of this phenomenon, implying unimaginable antiquity. See Mark Carlotto's 3-D rotation of the Fort here.


Featured Essay: "Skeptics, Debunkers and Believers"

Although not directly Cydonia-related, the following essay examines many of the issues examined elsewhere on this site:

Skeptics, Debunkers and Believers


TransOrbital to Launch Moon Probe

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TransOrbital, a private space exploration company, will soon send a sophisticated robotic lander to the Moon. Private ventures such as this challenge NASA's monolithic reign, and indicate that the first manned Mars mission might be a commercial, rather than a governmental, venture.

Some hope that TransOrbital's probe will help resolve the nagging question of anomalies on the lunar surface. Many suspiciously artificial-looking features have been noted by analysts of Apollo and Clementine images. If the Moon harbors alien artifacts, then proper archaeological study will prove much easier than study of Martian enigmas such as the Face; as author David Jinks points out, the Moon is literally only a few days away, while a manned mission to Mars may be decades in our future. If we can establish a human presence on the Moon using 1960s hardware (however briefly), we can expand our grasp exponentially with technology of the 21st century.

Artifacts or not, privatized exploration of the Moon is a positive step in the bureaucracy-riddled quest to set foot on the Red Planet.

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