Previous page...


ESA's Mars Express Reveals a New Martian Landscape

One of the Mars Express orbiter's spectacular color images of Mars, showing never-before-seen greens and blues.

The European Space Agency has begun releasing richly detailed color images of Mars taken by the Mars Express orbiter, erstwhile "mothership" for the failed Beagle 2 lander, which was to have searched for biological activity in the Martian soil.

Typical view of Mars from the Viking mission. The predominant reddish cast is challenged by new, closer views taken by the Mars Express.

Although formal analysis is forthcoming, the Mars Express images seem to show a Martian landscape quite unlike anything revealed by NASA's orbiters. The deep greens and blues in the new images look suspiciously like biological activity confined to shallow Martian lakes.

Liquid water on Mars?

In addition, the Mars Express has detected water ice on the Martian surface, lending support to the possibility of present-day liquid water. Preliminary study of Mars Global Surveyor images suggests that the dark patches seen in the ESA photos may actually grow larger on a seasonal basis, strongly suggesting an annual Martian melting cycle.

"Flying Saucer" is a Crater

The "flying saucer" made famous by Richard Hoagland has been rephotographed by the Mars Global Surveyor, showing it to be what most already suspected: a concave depression in the Martian landscape and not a convex dome, or "saucer."

This ride's going nowhere: the "flying saucer" is a crater.

Analysis of "saucer" based on previous image. Image courtesy Lan Fleming.

Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity Lands Successfully

The second twin Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, has touched down safely on the Martian surface and has begun transmitting photos. For breaking coverage and images, refer to JPL.


Peculiar Reflective "Something" at Opportunity Site

Anomaly hunter Efrain Palermo, best-known for his ground-breaking study of Martian "seeps," thought by some to represent short-lived liquid surface water, has been carefully examining an anomaly located at the Opportunity rover's landing site. At first glance, the mirror-bright shape seen below looks rather innocuous -- until one realizes there's nothing remotely like it at either of the rover sites (or, for that matter, the locations examined by the Viking landers and 1997's Pathfinder).

A bright, three-dimensional formation greets Opportunity. Spacecraft debris? Life? Image courtesy Efrain Palermo.

Whatever it is, it appears three-dimensional, with a narrow extended "petal" casting a distinct shadow on the ground. One early explanation held that the strange shape was a digital processing artifact. But the formation is visible in several black-and-white rover photographs; whatever it is, it's a real object and not a "glitch" -- although some of its unusual brightness is probably due to light saturation.

Palermo considered the possibility that the conspicuous shape (or "flower," as it has become known among Internet anomalists) might be due to a fragment from the Opportunity landing craft. But since nothing is obviously wrong with Opportunity, this possibility seems remote. Also, the material comprising the lander's air-bags -- the most likely source of any terrestrially introduced "litter" -- is stronger than steel, tending to rule out the rover entirely.

So what is it? Some, including Palermo, think the bright object might be a form of Martian plantlife. The organic-looking "petal" supports this hypothesis. Plant or not, the so-called "flower" is exceptionally nagging. Forthcoming high-resolution color views will reveal the object in considerably better detail.


Rover Debris . . . or Something Else?

A closer look at the "flower." Note strange "stalks."

The Opportunity rover has rephotographed the bright "flower" feature described in the previous post. And it's possibly the weirdest-looking small-scale formation ever photographed on the Martian surface. The object sports two "rabbit ears" that invite comparison to crab-like eyestalks. The possibility that we're looking at debris introduced by the rover itself has not yet been ruled out. Neither has the suggestion that the object is a peculiarly shaped chunk of Martian bedrock. Fortunately, the Opportunity rover is headed in the mystery object's direction. What will it discover?


JPL Ignores Strange Objects

In this revealing piece by Tech Central Station, titled "Mars Mirage," readers are assured that NASA/JPL is aware of the anomalies such as the one discussed above. Unfortunately, JPL considers a further investigation a waste of time. If the objects are in fact merely space junk then perhaps this reluctance is understandable. But as I write in Posthuman Blues, ignoring the presence of unknown objects -- terrestrial or otherwise -- is potentially hazardous to scientific inquiry:

Gurdjieff: Most all of us are mere machines, automata, robots. Only a few people achieve actual sentience. Self-awareness is something that must be earned and cultivated. It requires stamina and fortitude -- but it's worth it. As John Shirley notes, "The Matrix" and similar films have tapped this idea with phenomenal success; collectively, are we "waking up," or at least trying to? The 21st century badly needs Red Pills, the courage to confront the unheeding force our species has become.

An example of our collective autism is JPL's refusal to examine certain unidentified objects in the immediate vicinity of the Opportunity rover that seem to have changed location on the Martian surface. I'm not referring to delusional claims of "alien machinery"; the objects in question are real anomalies, addressed by Mars project scientists but deemed unworthy of investigation. One is the "pronged" object featured in an earlier installment. Another is a brightly colored something that online commentators initially took for "litter" from the rover's bumpy landing.

Since their initial discovery, both objects have disappeared from view, gone without a trace.

Two possibilities immediately come to mind: Either the objects are lightweight space junk carried away by Mars' tenuous winds (picture a candy bar wrapper or Styrofoam cup held aloft in a strong breeze) or else they are a genuine unknown. In the latter case, then it would be foolish to prematurely rule out the possibility of macroscopic lifeforms.

JPL has admitted it doesn't know what these objects are. Project scientists surmise they're spacecraft debris, but they don't pretend to know how they got there or which pieces of the Opportunity ensemble they might represent. This last point, to my mind, is crucial. The MER rovers are not hastily designed devices. Every rivet, seam and bolt is accounted for. All components are required to work in flawless harmony for the robots to safely reach their destinations and function according to plan.

If we're merely looking at pieces of lander debris, as suggested by the JPL team, then why aren't the engineers at the very least intensely curious to see what has apparently fallen off their super-redundant hardware? If the "pronged" object is simply a scrap of airbag fabric ensnared on a rock outcropping, then what's responsible for dislodging it? (Remember that the airbag material, for all its thinness, is stronger than steel.) And why don't we see similar "litter" at the Spirit landing site on the other side of the planet?

I previously wrote that JPL was developing an anything-but-scientific immunity to the unexpected. Apparently rocks are fair game -- but only if they resemble terrestrial rocks. Rocks with "varnished" surfaces or geometric cavities must be avoided -- perhaps because they look just a bit too organic, like chunks of bone or petrified wood where such things have no business being. Oddly colored snail-shapes are studiously avoided because, in the words of one JPL scientist, taking a close look would "waste precious machine time." He failed to note that the anomaly in question was directly in front of the Opportunity rover, starkly unavoidable. In the scheme of the rover's mission, taking a closer look would have been virtually effortless. Instead, Opportunity was (presumably) steered directly over the strange formation; JPL has taken to literally running over what it can't explain, like a monster truck imperviously crushing a line-up of decrepit cars.

We've managed the staggering feat of transplanting our senses to another world . . . and decided to all-but cover our eyes for fear of seeing something strange, or at the very least instructive.

We are machines on automatic pilot, forsaking the possibility of authentic discovery in favor of so much gravel.


The "Mainstream" Considers Mud on Mars

"Laguna Hollow" photographed by the Spirit rover.

Two new provocative headlines:

Mars Rovers Explore Hints of Salty Water

JPL: "To help scientists get a better look at the variations in the fine-grained dust at different depths, controllers commanded Spirit to 'jiggle' its wheels in the soil before backing away to a distance that allows the area to be reached with the robotic arm. Spirit will likely spend part of sol 46 analyzing this area with the instruments on its robotic arm."

Back to MTVI