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3-2-04

JPL: What to Expect

From my weblog, Posthuman Blues:

I've received a lot of email about JPL's big Mars press conference. People are getting excited. In Space.com's words, "something wonderful" will likely be revealed. Many expect JPL to come clean regarding some of the curiously fossil-like formations seen under the Opportunity rover's microscope. Others expect -- at the least -- confirmation of liquid water.

I'm skeptical. Public interest in the Mars rovers has been steadily waning since Spirit landed in early January. JPL direly needs one of its patented staged "news" conferences to ensure that the rovers aren't totally forgotten. As I've written in Meta Research Bulletin and elsewhere, acknowledging a life-friendly Martian environment is academic suicide for JPL geologists, whose continued research hinges on Mars being barren and lifeless.

So I expect the conference to offer the same speculations JPL has been tirelessly masticating since the Viking missions. Specifically, the possibility of water in Mars' remote geological past. Or maybe -- if we're lucky -- the possibility of water in Mars' relatively recent past. Of course, "recent" will mean something like ten million years ago, but we'll still be expected to gape in amazement at the sheer wonder of it all.

Reality, however, appears to defy JPL's arid rhetoric. Strong evidence suggests liquid water on Mars right now. Will JPL dare admit it? Consider what's at stake. Conceding that Mars has the chemistry necessary for life is tantamount to an open invitation for microbiologists to join JPL's zealously guarded ranks. For scientists supposedly enamored of "searching for life" on the Red Planet, the JPL team has always been careful to exclude the life sciences from its post-Viking Mars ventures.

Neither of the MER rovers has any life-detection instrumentation whatsoever. Plans for future probes also carefully exclude instruments with the potential to tell us anything conclusive regarding the prospect of life. For far too long, Mars science has been the stuff of lofty peer-reviewed journals and endless debate. In this light, conclusive findings are the last thing JPL wants; best to keep Mars exploration enigmatic and sketchy so the academic press can continue to spew forth its never-ending post-hoc scenarios. After all, there's grant money on the line, careers to maintain. And so biologists -- the very people equipped to lead a "search for life" on another world -- are kept at the gates like so many annoying trespassers, forced to grapple with JPL's predigested geological musings.

There's an apt saying that sums up JPL's myopia: "When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like nails." So it is with Mars. When all you have is a rock abrasion tool and a proton spectrometer, everything looks like . . . rocks.


What Was I Just Saying?

I hate being right about this stuff...

JPL: "Bunny" Probably Lander Debris

In this animation, one of the "ears" can be seen swaying in the Martian breeze. Evidently the object popularly known as the "bunny" is extremely lightweight -- explaining its "disappearance."

Sheddings from Opportunity Lead Rover Fans on a "Bunny" Chase

"Without seeing the 'bunny ears' object up close with our own eyes, it's difficult to provide a positive identification. However, scientists and engineers are quick to deflate the myth that it is anything inexplicable."


3-6-04

A Martian "Centipede"?

I'm not a geologist or a biologist. Neither, to my knowledge, is Richard Hoagland. But both of us unconditionally agree: the segmented object in the photo above looks decidedly fossil-like. The problem is justifying JPL's subsequent grinding away of the anomaly. If Mars once hosted organisms (or still does), preserving their possible remains for future study strikes me as both sensible and responsible, even if the current generation of rovers is unequipped for proper analysis.

How confident are we that similar "finds" (assuming the "centipede" is a fossilized lifeform) will fortuitously turn up when we eventually -- hopefully -- make it to Mars in person? Could we have just casually destroyed evidence of something truly remarkable?


5-7-04

The "Mainstream" Misinterprets JPL's Presence on Mars

Hold it right there. What's this about NASA poring over images for evidence of life? The writer of this article is misinformed. No one from JPL has claimed that the rovers are looking for signs of macroscopic life. JPL recites the usual cryptic allusions to the "search for life," yes. But when pressed on specifics, JPL scientists readily admit that looking for lifeforms -- extinct or otherwise -- is not part of the plan.

The rest of the article is a parade of wanton cliches. The writer selects George Filer, a one-man clearing-house for anything strange or potentially "ufological," as a typical anomaly hunter. I have no bone to pick with Filer, but I'm unaware of any research emanating from his so-called "Institute." Why didn't they pick, say, Efrain Palermo or Lan Fleming?

Of course, I know exactly why. But I want to hear you say it for me.


3-10-04

New Perspectives on the "Centipede"

[Paleontologist Ray Stanford has given me permission to post the following skeptical commentary on the "centipede fossil" (see above). Meanwhile, Richard Hoagland has posted a feature-length piece on the curious formation ( At this point I should also add that if it showed me any possibility of being a fossil, I would be delighted and not write this. If anyone doubts that, look at what I wrote about the "concretions" (NASA/JPL's term) probably being evidence of bacterial life. I am in no way a 'goat' about the possibility of life (either past or present) on Mars. The trouble is, the "centipede" image shows merely cracks radial to a vaguely crescent-shaped cavity. I could offer several hypotheses accounting for the crack pattern (and the cavity), but none require any organism to have been involved. Furthermore, there is absolutely nothing in the image that appears diagnostic of fossilization of any kind, whatsoever.

Personally, it would greatly surprise me if there are not fairly abundant fossils on Mars, since there was abundant water even on the surface at one time, but I recommend great caution in what we call a fossil, lest we "cry wolf" so much as to be unheeded when a real "wolf" shows up.

On a related topic: I still have a clipping of an article that came out the day before those first, very low-resolution images of Mars were sent back to earth in 1965. Anyhow, it stated that any images from Mars might be delayed being shown publicly for a certain period of time, due to possible concerns related to national security! (Huh?!!!) Because of that, I've always wondered what JPL-NASA might decide to hide from the public. Is such a "national security" policy is still in effect?

Would we be told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? There is cause to wonder. We might justifiably ask what about Mars could be considered, if released, a risk to national security, whether in 1965 or in 2004. :)


3-11-04

Do Martians Listen to Compact Discs?

CD-like formation: handiwork of the Spirit rover.

Although looks remarkably like a partially exhumed Martian artifact, it's actually an imprint left by the Spirit rover's Mössbauer spectrometer.

So why does the imprint look like a three-dimensional object embedded in the soil rather than a shallow depression? Probably because of the infamous trick of shadow that sometimes makes craters look like domes. A more speculative possibility is electrostatic adhesion. Perhaps the Mössbauer instrument acted as a "dirt magnet," removing a layer of granules from the surface and depositing them above the surrounding soil. It bears mentioning that when apparent "mud" became stuck to the Opportunity rover's wheels, JPL described the effect in electrostatic terms. The Mössbauer "imprint" may be due to a related phenomenon.


3-30-04

Is Methane Evidence of a Martian Biosphere?

The detection of methane in the Martian atmosphere may signal an end to JPL's depiction of a sterile, lifeless Mars, as summarized in

Probable Martian vegetation.


4-11-04

"Face"-like Morphologies

This angular formation, located in the Utopia region, shares a gross resemblance to the "framing mesa" that encompasses the famous "Face on Mars" and at least two other potentially illuminating landforms noted by Mars anomalists.

According to NASA, "This image shows a boulder covered hill at 41 N, 207 W in the Utopia Planitia region of Mars. The image is about 2.2 km across and 3.3 km high. The boulders are the small specks on the top of the hill and are thought to be the remains of a layer of harder rock which was broken up and largely eroded away." Some have proposed that the wedge-shaped feature above might be artificial, thus falling into the rubric of planetary SETI research. However, despite straight edges and a "framing" effect similar to that found in Cydonia, it's difficult to accept that the "Wedge" is anything but an eroded mesa.

The Wedge appears somewhat like the enigmatic, highly symmetrical Cerberus Plaform, seen above, as well as the domed, smooth-surfaced formation below.

Also compare the the partially imaged rectilinear formation seen here with the Face's "framing mesa."

For an exhaustive collection of "Cydonia-like" geomorphs, refer to Greg Orme's catalogue.


7-16-04

New Cydonian Imperative Website!

"Cydonian Imperative 2.0" has been launched! New posts will appear at

http://cydonianimperative.blogspot.com

Same commentary; easier-to-use interface. Your feedback is welcome!


10-16-05

New Posts to Appear Here

After several months of sporadic updating at the Cydonian Imperative's blog location, I've decided to resume posting here.

Be advised that the blog is now "frozen." For updates, bookmark the CI start page, available here.

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