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Nighttime Infrared Image of Face Released

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A new nighttime image showing the Face on Mars in the infrared (IR) spectrum fails to provide evidence of underground structure, although the poor resolution leaves the question of subterranean architecture open. Although the Face is just barely visible, observers may find correlations between the bright areas and visible-wavelength images of this ususual formation.

Arizona State University's Thermal Imaging System team details the technical aspects of IR imaging and how they come to bear on geomorphology:

"[The Face] can be seen in the daytime image because of the temperature differences between the sunlit (warm and bright) and shadowed (cold and dark) slopes. The temperature in the daytime scene ranges from -50 C (darkest) to -15 C (brightest). At night many of the hills and knobs in this region are difficult to detect because the effects of heating and shadowing on the slopes are no longer present. The temperatures at night vary from approximately -90 C (darkest) to -75 C (warmest). The nighttime temperature differences are due primarily to differences in the abundance of rocky materials that retain their heat at night and stay warm. Fine grained dust and sand cools of more rapidly at night. The circular rims and eject of many of the craters in this region are warm at night, showing that rocks are still present on the steep walls inside the craters and in the ejecta material that was blasted out when the craters formed. Some craters have cold (dark) material on their floors in the night IR image, indicating that fine-grained material is accumulating within the craters. Many knobs and hills, including the 'face' have rocky (warm at night) material on their slopes and ridges."

While not mentioned on the ASU site, the Fort and D&M Pyramid are also seen in the new nighttime image. The latter formation retains its "starfish" appearance, with relatively warm edges and cool planes, suggesting a layer of insulating material. This is verified by high-resolution THEMIS visible-wavelength image of the D&M, which shows a veneer of (presumably) windblown material peeling away from the southern facet.

Insulating layer on D&M Pyramid. Note unusual rectilinear "buttresses" at bottom.


New D&M "Spine" Shows Up on Nighttime Infrared Image

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Donovan Colbert has noted an intriguing feature on the recent nighttime infrared image of Cydonia (see article above) that lends support to a possible artificial origin for the D&M Pyramid.

When the Odyssey's visible-wavelength camera captured the D&M in unprecedented resolution, researchers were startled by the appearance of a "new," previously unnoticed diamond-shaped facet emerging from the D&M's northwest quadrant. This partially buried feature revitalized interest in the geometry of the D&M, suggesting a highly symmetrical "arrowhead"-like appearance (see animation below.)

Animation courtesy Mark Carlotto/New Frontiers in Science.

Colbert noticed that a bright line extended down the center of the newly revealed facet in the IR image, terminating abruptly at the exposed corner (the tip of the "arrowhead" configuration, as seen above). This was invisible in the visible-light image, and appears to be a ridge separating the "new" facet into two distinct shapes. Like the IR features discussed in the previous installment, the line is consistent with an exposed edge, cleared of debris by Mars' tenuous (but patient) winds.

In the animation below, Colbert shows the D&M's prominent axes superimposed on the night IR image. The line running from the upper-left traces the newly revealed ridge. The second image highlights apparent structural deformation. Note that the axes remain essentially intact despite heavy damage on the feature's eastern half.

Interestingly, the ridgeline visible in the IR image is an exact match for Colbert's reconstructive overlay, produced before the IR image was taken. If the D&M Pyramid is wholly geological in origin, the ridge's placement would appear to be extremely fortuitous. But viewed as the work of ancient architects, it makes aesthetic and structural sense.

Stereoscopic view of the D&M. Centerline is invisible in visible-wavelength light. Image courtesy Chris Joseph.

The D&M Pyramid is the next logical target for the Mars Global Surveyor's high-resolution camera. While repeated images of the Face are invaluable, they fail to pass muster with debunkers who will continue to chalk the formation up to "seeing faces" regardless of quantitative data favoring artificiality (i.e., nonfractal terrain signature).

The D&M's morphology is relatively hard-edged (not dissimilar to pyramidal structures built by extinct terrestrial cultures) and perhaps more amenable to archaeological investigation.

Colbert writes:

"[M]y latest involvement in fringe science was pointing out that the D&M Pyramid, located in the Cyndonia region of Mars near the 'Face,' had a very unique infrared signature in nighttime IR photography. Among the interesting facts were that the IR was hottest on the side that had been in shade the longest (the side you would thus excpect to be the coolest), and that the thermal signature was consisten with 'spines' along the axis, spines that were invisible in normal daytime photography, and spines that I drew over daytime images of the D&M pyramid months ago to illustrate the unqiuely symmetrical quality of this formation. I was not 'predicting' that those spines would be there, though, in a pure sense. I was simply illustrating that the geometric quality of this formation was so precise and it could be easily divided using a simple paint program, like a pie-chart, almost. The fact that those divisions actually exist, buried underneath the formation is, in my opinion, the strongest evidence that something outside of purely geological origin is responsible for the formation of the D&M pyramid."


Unusual Oval Formations Resemble Enormous "Eggs" (updated)

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Shortly after writing the following piece, perusal of the MSSS source image (see links above) revealed that the "eggs" are less than spectacular. The anonymous image posted below may be a deliberate deception, although I doubt it; the terrain is remarkably amenable to visual "flip-flopping" (the same perceptual trick that can make craters appear dome-shaped).

However, these features are not depressions; they're convex dunes (weird dunes, but nothing extraordinary). The person who cropped the image created a decent illusion by adjusting the contrast and rotating the image so that the black "shadows" look like they're beneath the "eggs." In truth, the dark areas are simply the sides of the dunes shielded from the sun. They're not ground shadows.

The "egg" image managed to fool several experienced viewers prior to its debut on this site. Chalk this "discovery" up to Mars' exotic geology, coupled with some rather misleading image processing. My apologies for the false alarm.


The Mars Global Surveyor image below shows a number of highly unusual formations that resemble partially buried eggs. This image was forwarded to me as is; I've left the commentary on the right side of the image intact.

While these formations appear quite singular in shape, their placement is reminescent of features comprising the so-called "Monolith Graveyard" discovered by the late Dean Wetmore (see below).

The Monolith Graveyard.

It's unclear if the newly discovered features represent geology or biology. The egg-like appearance certainly invites exotic speculation. It's clear that these are not sand dunes in any meaningful sense. It's conceivable that they're artificial objects, although nothing in their arrangement points decisively to an archaeological interpretation. (If the "eggs" were grouped in pairs or positioned to form geometric shapes, for example, artificial origin would be a major contending possibility.)


Enterprise Mission Reveals a Not-So-"Red" Planet

Lately, I've seldom agreed with Richard Hoagland's position on the life on Mars controversy. His newest installment,


Enigmatic Polar "Trails" on Mars

Unexplained trails on Mars' mysterious south pole.

While I don't think it's likely, it's conceivable that the trails are the remains of an engineering project. I offer the possibility on a purely speculative basis; as one of the features' discoverers very aptly remarked, we probably won't know what we're looking at until we are able to investigate in person.

If only NASA would act on this sentiment instead of readying the next volley of telerobotic probes.

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