Previous page...


Artificial Structures on Martian Moon?

The Mars Global Surveyor recently snapped a photo of Phobos, the largest of Mars' two moonlets. The image is a sharper glimpse of the irregularly shaped body viewed by the Viking mission. It also lays to rest persistent, if implacable, Internet rumors that Phobos had somehow disappeared from Mars orbit.

Note converging grooves on Phobos' surface.

Phobos has never received the investigation it probably deserves. A Russian attempt to scan the moon with a spectroscopic laser ended in disaster in the 1990s when the Phobos II probe fell silent -- evidence, to some, that the moon is occupied extraterrestrial real-estate defended by wary aliens.

Low-resolution rotation of Phobos.

Aliens or not, Phobos is a vastly promising location for future (preferably manned) exploration. The moon itself has long been an anomaly; its orbital characteristics suggest it may be hollow. I've suggested on this site that Phobos may in fact be a derelict spacecraft of the "generation ark" variety described by science writers such as Isaac Asimov. At the very least, Phobos is considered rich in potential rocket fuel, making it a desirable "stop-over" destination for Mars-bound astronauts. Unexplained surface features such as the numerous converging grooves seen above, together with the conspicuous cuspid-like formations located by Efrain Palermo, pose the possibility that Phobos may boast uneroded artificial structures deserving of close attention.

Image courtesy Efrain Palermo.

In addition to the "cones" pictured above, Palermo and Lan Fleming have investigated what seems to be an uncharacteristically sharp-edged anomaly known informally as the "Phobos Monolith." Shape-from-shading analysis by Chris Joseph suggests, tantalizingly, that the "Monolith" may be pyramidal in shape, suggesting a link with similar anomalous formations on the Martian surface (i.e., the City Pyramid and D&M Pyramid).

Efrain Palermo's extrapolation of the "Phobos Monolith" based on sun-angle.

Stereo pair of pyramidal "Phobos Monolith" by Chris Joseph.

The "Monolith" is accompanied by a smaller anomaly. Could both formations be pyramids...? Image courtesy Efrain Palermo.


Martian "Spiders": What Are They?

Related links:

The electronic journal New Frontiers in Science examines the organic-looking Martian "black spiders," contenders for extant Martian lifeforms.

These spider-like formations may be Martian organisms.


New Interview: Is Malin Space Science Systems Covering Up?

Columnist/NASA watchdog Bill Dash conducted an interview with me regarding the two unannounced Face images that were posted on the Web in April of this year. To read it, visit:


Special thanks to Bill Dash and Gerry Forster.


Close Analysis of "Underground City" Images Fails to Convince

In 2002, Mars anomalists heatedly debated the authenticity of an infrared (IR) image which supposedly depicted grid-like structures below the surface of Cydonia. No clear-cut answer to the controversy ever surfaced, but the majority of commentators, myself included, found the "underground city" presented by Richard Hoagland and Mike Bara (of the Enterprise Mission) less-than-compelling. (For my editorial on the alleged "city," see page 34.)

Portion of alleged infrared (IR) photo showing rectilinear "underground structures."

While most exo-archaeologists have considered the issue buried (pun intended), Mike Bara has peered long and hard at the potentially incriminating image and claims to have located areas where the presumed "invisible" features (seen only in the IR spectrum) concur with features evident on visible-wavelength imagery. This is a rousing claim, to be sure, and Bara opens his new article with a scalding attack on his critics:

"Last year, when the Enterprise Mission released indisputable proof of massive-city like ruins buried underneath the ice at Cydonia ("Ghost Town ... And The Darkness" 9/5/2002), we were almost universally attacked by various harping critics in the so-called 'anomalist community.' These critics, many of whom operate at the fringes of the Cydonia question and fancy themselves as self appointed arbiters of what constitutes 'valid' lines of Cydonia research, seemed unable to cope with the reality of what they were Facing [sic]."

Bara's new article, posted on the stimulating Lunar Anomalies website, goes on to challenge the above "harping critics" to explain what he suggests is irrefutable evidence that the controversial IR image is a valid representation of the Cydonia region. One wonders why the renewed assault; after all, the Enterprise Mission pronounced "case closed" last year. Regardless, I eagerly downloaded Bara's new graphics, wondering if I was in for a surprise.

Bara's "evidence" is a severe disappointment. His three explanatory graphics add nothing to the assertion that Cydonia is home to subterranean ruins. The first image attempts to isolate an intriguing square-shaped anomaly near the D&M Pyramid (easily seen in visible light) and show its "mirror" in the contested IR image. The square in question is, indeed, interesting. But its proposed IR "twin" is much less so. For starters, it's not square, but a distinctly elongated rectangle. And, embarrassingly, it doesn't even share the square's axis. Hardly the "match" it's presented as.

As I wrote last year regarding the rather psychedelic "underground ruins," encountering isolated moments of superficial agreement between the dubious IR image and visible-light photos is probably inevitable; the images in question cover a lot of terrain, and both are littered with interesting shapes. In this sense, it's remarkable that the best the "pro" side of the argument can come up with is a relatively tiny feature that fails to match what we see in Cydonia images of known provenance.

Bara next treats us to a mosaic of "extreme close-ups" of the sort familiar to readers of the Enterprise Mission. When I first examined this image I actually thought it had downloaded only partially: there is no visible-light counterpart! One can pontificate endlessly about what the suspect image shows, but Bara's argument -- demonstrated by his opening paragraph -- is that some features in the IR enhancement should be visible in "normal" images as well. So without a "normal" image with which to show any proposed matches, Bara's second image is effectively worthless. It fails as evidence by functioning under the assumption that the case for subterranean architecture is closed. Bara's personal bias comes as no particular surprise, and there's nothing intrinsically wrong with it. But it dodges the very challenge Bara pretends to set up for his "harping critics." (What, one wonders, is Bara's definition of "harping"? Pointing out blatant logical inconsistencies?)

There's one more graphic that purports to prove the reality of a sprawling, mostly buried city. This time we're treated to an actual visible-light counterpart, so it's not quite the exercise in time-wasting as the former graphic. But it's a close call. So far as I can determine, the parallel Bara wants us to be able to see is an "underground" continuation of a ridge formation near the Cydonia City complex. I'm not going to comment. A "Tholus" in California?

This conical structure at Edwards Air Force Base resembles the Tholus at Cydonia.

Edwards Air Force Base in California features a conical mound very much like the Tholus in Cydonia, complete with groove/ramp. While the Tholus appears to have a weathered triangular structure at its peak, the better-preserved (and much newer) formation at Edwards boasts a cylindrical metal tank. Details aside, the resemblance between the Tholus and the mound at Edwards is striking. While I'm in no way suggesting an exotic "common origin," perhaps the Tholus in Cydonia once served a similar purpose as its terrestrial cousin.

Image courtesy Mark Carlotto.

If artificial, the Tholus need not be "high-tech." Its overall resemblance to England's Silbury Hill has been noted by several researchers. It's conceivable the Tholus was built by a Bronze Age civilization for cultural/astronomical reasons. But the winding ramp, most evident in Mark Carlotto's shape-from-shading rendering (above), suggests a more sophicticated, utilitarian origin.

I've proposed that the Tholus might be an observatory from which hypothetical Martians could take in some of the exotic formations in the Cydonia region, such as the unexplained Cliff. The triangular peak is situated atop a shallow, abraded platform that, curiously enough, is aimed directly at the distant Face at app. 45 degrees. Such correspondences imply that the Tholus' placement is nonrandom.

Using terrestrial structures as analogies for possible Martian ruins is a potentially hazardous practice. The variations in scale and age are often mind-boggling, rendering superficial likenesses useless (the Enterprise Mission's delightfully absurd "Sumer/Iraq-Mars" connection being a case in point). Nevertheless, a systematic survey of known artificial structures employing "earthworks"-style engineering might help us understand the possible function and meaning of the anomalous morphologies at Cydonia.

(Special thanks to Zak.)


Tholus-like Formation in Arabia Terra

Malin Space Science Systems has the following to say about the peculiar "bull's eye" formation shown below:

"This April 2003 Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) image shows a stair-stepped mound of sedimentary rock (right of center) on the floor of a large impact crater in western Arabia Terra near 11.0N, 4.4W. Sedimentary rock outcrops are common in the craters of this region. The repeated thickness and uniformity of the layers that make up this mound suggest that their depositional environment was one in which cyclic or episodic events occurred over some period of time. The sediments might have been deposited in a lake, or they may have settled directly out of the atmosphere. Most of the layered material was later eroded away, leaving this circular mound and the other nearby mesas and knobs. The image is illuminated by sunlight from the lower left."

The stair-stepped mound is interesting as it appears similar to the Tholus in Cydonia (see preceding article). But for all of its similarity, there are crucial differences. For example, the "steps" in the undoubtedly geological "stepped mound" are concentric, whereas the "ramp" that winds its way from the base of the Tholus appears to "corkscrew," much like the access ramp on the Edwards Air Force Base formation (see above). Sedimentary deposits can stack successive layers atop one another, like tiers in a wedding cake, but they can't account for the strange surface detail displayed by the Tholus. Nevertheless, the stepped mound is an exotic formation that conveys a spurious sense of artificiality; I won't be in the least surprised if it crops up on Mars anomaly websites as a "Martian palace."

More high-resolution images of the Tholus (with its oddly triangular peak) will greatly assist efforts to discern possible architecture on the Martian surface.

(With thanks to Prof. Stanley McDaniel.)


A Geological Explanation for the "Tholus"?

[The following commentary is courtesy of Peter Ness of the Society for Planetary SETI Research, who responded to the above pieces on the conical morphology known as the "Tholus." While I don't find his argument definitive, it is certainly rational and bears consideration. --Mac]

[The Tholus] does not cork-screw . . . It is a volcano that has partially collapsed, with the area around of the central cone collapsing into a classical caldera . . . [T]he circular fracture pattern of the developing caldera rim is obvious. The pattern seen is due to concetric normal faulting rather than alien action. The extreme ring of the [Tholus] is the edge of the basalt. The second rim is probably circular faulting of the second layer of basalt (this looks like a small raised lip and is hard to spot as is not real clear).

The next rim is the main collapse caldera forming -- which is clear in all the images. The Viking image shows this as a large circular fracture, which is impacted by a small crater (bottom side). The cork-screw is a superimposed normal faulting inside this caldera and cutting the edge of the caldera.

The small central peak is a bit like a rhyolite dome in the core. The oval shape of the central caldera is enhanced by the top right side of the central dome where basalt has leaked to cause a flat spot.

In short -- the object does not cork-screw.

Back to MTVI