The True Colors of NASA
I he image shown in Fig. 11-1 is an enhanced, grayscale close-up
created by Keith Laney and Richard C. Hoagland from a combination of
three 2001 Mars Odyssey visual frames (of the five simultaneously
taken by the Odyssey color visual camera) and the 2001 Mars Global
Surveyor image of the Face on Mars (E03-00824).
The Odyssey image
release is officially designated JPL/ASU V0 3814003. The five frames
- from the near "IR" end of the visible spectrum, to the "violet" -
were acquired by the Odyssey spacecraft as it flew over the Cydonia
region on October 24, 2002, precisely one year (Greenwich Meridian
Time) after it arrived in Martian orbit.
This date is the same one
that was given for the Halloween release of the nighttime Cydonia IR
image. As we have established in a previous section, it is highly
unlikely that the nighttime image was actually taken on that date.
Whether the new image was actually taken on that date is harder to
What made this close-up so remarkable is that, for the first time in
over a generation, a NASA spacecraft acquired multi-spectral images
of the Face as seen in morning light - with the illumination coming
from the east [Fig. 11-2]. What this unique sun angle revealed was
nothing less than revolutionary.
Even casual examination of the Face
as seen in this "new light" revealed two new pieces of vital
1. The eastern side, under even this pre-dawn illumination, is
incredibly reflective, and;
2. In lowered contrast images, the source of this anomalously "high
albedo" is an inexplicable series of highly geometric "panels."
Beyond that, the key parameter that made this new image so
remarkable is "when" it was acquired.
Carefully examining the "data
block" for image VO 3814003 on the Arizona State University (ASU) THEMIS website,140 we can immediately ascertain that it was taken by
the Odyssey camera at 4:39 a.m., local Martian (Cydonia) time.
Further reading of the table reveals that the "phase angle" - that
is, the geometric relationship between the sun, the Martian surface
directly underneath the spacecraft just east of the Face and Odyssey
itself - was 90.3°.
Since 90° (for a spacecraft directly overhead)
would indicate the sun was literally on the eastern horizon, the
slightly greater angle reveals that actually the sun was 0.3° below
the horizon when the image was acquired (and even slightly lower at
the location of the Face itself).
The last line in the table, "Description: Cydonia - Face at Night"
confirms this geometry. Technically, then, this Odyssey dawn image
was actually acquired just before sunrise, with the sun still hidden
below the Cydonia horizon.
This simple, inarguable geometry marks
the high brightness of the Face's eastern side - before the sun has
risen - as extraordinary. This, in turn, leads directly to the
pivotal question: just what could make "an average Martian mesa" (to
quote Carl Sagan) so incredibly reflective... even in the semi-dark,
pre-dawn twilight of Cydonia?
A side-by-side comparison [Fig. 11-3] reveals the true incongruity
of such a brilliant-surfaced object. The official NASA version of
the Face from V0 3814003 (left) is totally "washed out" on the
illuminated (eastern) side - even though the image was shot before
the sun had risen. In the Laney-Hoagland rendition (right), after
considerable effort to lower brightness levels, some surface details
can just be seen beneath the glare.
Again, for this over saturation of the THEMIS imaging CCDs to have
occurred, and under these really dim lighting conditions, something
about the innate reflectivity of this Martian surface feature - at
this geometry-must truly be "anomalous." Why, under pre¬dawn
lighting, is the Face - even allowing for the obviously increased
gain settings in the Odyssey camera - so incredibly bright? And why
is that inexplicably reflective eastern surface also arrayed in
those stark, startlingly geometric patterns?
For the inevitable critics of the image processing and Face
analyses, it is imperative for everyone to realize that these
spectacular results were achieved by merely decreasing the
brightness of Odyssey image V0 3814003, and then applying a 3X pixel
over sampling (to smooth out "jaggies"). No other filters or
enhancement techniques have been used. So the usual canard of "image
processing artifacts" cannot be applied as an excuse for the
geometry revealed by the brightness reduction.
By the time the brightness has been decreased to approximately ten
percent of the official published image value, the astonishing 3D
geometry of the Face's eastern side is overwhelmingly apparent [Fig.
Given that we did not have access to the absolute photometric
transfer functions of the Odyssey VIS camera, this technique can
also be used to put some crude upper limits on the absolute
reflectivity of the Face.
If we equate the surface brightness of the
soils around the Face with NASA's published estimates of the average albedo (reflectivity) of the Cydonia region (about twenty percent -
according to a pre-Pathfinder NASA Conference),141 we can then
approximate the relative reflectivity of the Face in this new image,
based on when the surface "disappears" in our brightness reduction
Keeping firmly in mind that these are only "ballpark estimates," the
Face via this technique turns out to be reflecting - straight up -
an amazing 99.9% of the surface illumination falling on it, compared
to the ground's average of about 20%! Since no rocky surface can
possibly have this degree of right-angle, natural reflectivity, the
Face's eastern side must be acting like a set of coherent,
By the process of elimination, we were
inexorably forced to conclude that only some kind of manufactured,
highly "directional" glass and metal surface on the Face - whereby
the angles of all the surviving reflecting elements, despite the
curving underlying structure, are aligned - could redirect the
horizon sky glow coherently, vertically, at such a specific angle,
and thus produce these startling optical phenomenon seen in
Odyssey's VIS camera.
Further, the multi-colored, "prismatic" appearance of these striking
3D "panels" raises the serious possibility of semi-transparent,
glass-like refractions in this material - from whatever is making up
this structure. This, in turn, is totally consistent with Hoagland's
predictions that the Face was a specifically constructed and
completely artificial edifice.
It is also completely consistent with
Mark Carlotto's earlier fractal analysis, which identified the Face
as the most unnatural object for over 15,000 square miles.
argued in Monuments that Carlotto's then newly-published results
were likely due to a "sophisticated placement of shadow-casting
[artificial] pyramidal substructures on |the] underlying mesa..." In
other words, that major portions of the Face were composed of a
collection of polygonal objects, much like modern 3D computer models
are made up of thousands of polygons, now showing (through erosion)
countless exposed elements of their internal geometric structure.
Of course, the first criticism to be leveled at this assertion is
that there may be a perfectly prosaic explanation for the eastern
half of the Face being so anomalously bright - like Dr.
Christensen's aforementioned "pasted on snow" model. In actuality,
this explanation is fairly easy to refute.
According to the Canadian Meteorological Center,142 fresh snow has
an albedo of about 83%. Old "aging" snow only scatters about 50% of
sunlight falling on it. Since we've now quantitatively estimated the
eastern side brightness of the Face at over 99%, this effectively
rules out any natural high albedo, lambert-type (all-direction)
scattering surfaces caused by snow or ice (whether water or frozen
CO2) as an explanation for the severely overexposed Face's eastern
And, if "snow" was present on the Face when the image was
acquired (hardly likely, given the official Martian northern
hemisphere date of image acquisition - northern summer), why didn't
this same snow fall on the shadowed side in the Odyssey view, or on
the other, nearby mesas?
The truth is, "something" about the protected eastern half of the
Face's surface (captured by Odyssey in an instant of precise
pre-dawn sun/spacecraft illumination geometry) is capable of
producing mirror-like reflections, bounced 250 miles straight up,
even before the sun had actually risen over the Cydonia horizon.
"Snow" simply cannot do that.
The other conventional explanation for the anomalous brightness of
the Face in this pre-dawn image is that it simply isn't all that
bright at all. That its brightness is simply a function of the
camera's gain being turned up. A close look at the image itself
[Fig. 11-2] proves that this is simply not correct.
Face with its closest "next door neighbor," a mesa located just to
the southeast, shows that while the Face's eastern flank is totally
overexposed, the mesa right next door is barely lit up. Yet the
source of illumination for both objects is exactly the same - the
pre-dawn brightening several degrees above the Cydonia horizon.
Further, this dramatic brightness difference is not because of any
major differences in height. As can be seen in pre-dawn imagery, the
primary landscape lighting comes from a large area of the sky -
several degrees above the point where the sun will actually rise.
Thus, the sky illumination of both features in VO 3814003 -
regardless of their intrinsic height - is essentially the same.
Significantly, the only other object on the color image that even
begins to approach the Face in brightness (albedo) is the D&M. In
the bottom left portion of VO 3814003, the Odyssey camera managed to
catch the northeast quadrant of the D&M at about twenty meters per
pixel resolution (roughly twice that of Viking) - and in color.
Perhaps even more important, whereas all previous D&M images (Viking
and Odyssey) have been taken with the sun coming from the left, in
this image the Pyramid is clearly illuminated from the right - the
direction of the not-yet-risen-sun. It is immediately apparent in
this image that the D&M is as reflective at this viewing angle as
the Face itself.
What was now clear was that in this revealing pre-dawn light, the
light-scattering properties of both the Face and D&M were highly
This bizarre reflectivity supports the idea that the Face
is at least made up of a series of highly polished (possibly by
wind), geometrically aligned artificial panels. The reflectivity
also powerfully reinforces the earlier findings of the nighttime
infrared image, in which the Face seemed to all but disappear except
for a box-like, geometric under-structure.
For if the Face was
actually constructed of glasslike or metallic panels, rather than
being an "eroded rocky outcrop," it would not retain heat at all
through the night. Its anomalous reflectivity in this image is
confirmation of its equally anomalous lack of heat retention in the
nighttime IR. In other words, the Face is anything but "a giant pile
It's hard to imagine that Dr. Christensen failed to appreciate the
lighting geometry of this image when he took it. Our suspicion was
that he arranged this particular lighting because he expected to see
something different and unique, but it hardly seems probable that he
was looking to get a good predawn image of carbon dioxide snow.
Given that only this specific lighting could produce an image of the
geometric panels on the Face's eastern side, how had Christensen
been tipped off to take this photo? The panels didn't clearly show
up in any of Dr. Malin's "better" visible light images, although
they were faintly suggested by at least one.
In this Mars Surveyor image of the Face, compared to the same area
from Odyssey, note the distinct, glowing, 3D quality of the eastern
geometry seen in the Odyssey view. Then note hints of a similar
rectilinear structure on the Face's surface in the white light
image, at opposite lighting and higher resolution.
similarity - but at two totally different scales - suggests that the
brilliant reflecting elements seen in the Odyssey twenty-meter color
version may in fact be larger scale, more massive interior
structures, captured underneath the visible light features seen in
the MGS five-meter view.
This would have been possible because of the unique illumination
angle of this image. Pre-dawn sunlight, shining almost horizontally
through a high-tech, though porous and still eroding eastern surface
covering, photographed by Odyssey looking straight down at a 90°
angle. A good analogy would be the view through a fine-mesh window
screen at twilight, into a well-lit room - where the mesh is
literally too small to be seen against the massive illuminated
pieces in the room.
The overall effect in this Odyssey view would have been identical to
an internal lighting system, producing an imaging effect almost like
an x-ray, making the internal architectural structure of the Face on
Mars visible for the first time.
So given that there was little evidence to suggest that an MGS image
(at least a publicly released one) was the source of Dr.
Christensen's curiosity, we were forced to look to the political
arena for a reason he might have wanted to "get there first." After
a little searching, the reason became obvious - ESA's Mars Express.
The Mars Express Orbiter was scheduled to arrive in Mars orbit in
late December 2003. Because of the vagaries of the spacecraft's
orbit, it would not be in a position to image Cydonia for a few
years after its arrival. However, it did carry a color imaging
camera that was vastly superior to the color camera on Mars Odyssey
The on-board HRSC (High Resolution Stereo Camera) system could
take images in color, stereo and at very high resolutions, down to
about two meters per pixel. This meant that an image of the Face, if
it could be captured under the same pre-dawn lighting conditions,
would give us color and stereo images equivalent to the Odyssey
color images, but at the spatial resolution of the best Mars Global
Given that the mission was going to be run outside of the influence
or NASA, we had some hope that we might get good data from it. At
least we hoped that it would be more honest than what NASA had
provided over the years - and in color.
The True Colors of NASA
The reason we were now so focused on color images was that from the
very beginning of NASA's Mars explorations, the agency had a problem
with getting color images correct.
As we had gathered data over the
years, it became obvious that this was not a technical problem, but
a political one. For some reason, NASA had an aversion to showing
the world the "true colors of Mars."
Perhaps the most infamous account is of the controversy that still
swirls around the release by JPL of the first color Viking Lander
image. Within a few hours of that historic publication of the first
color photograph from the surface of Mars, another hurriedly revised
version of this first color surface image was suddenly produced,
supposedly correcting the initial "color engineering problems" in
the first image.
Decades later, one of those personally present at JPL would relate a
very different story of this incident. The witness is the son of the
scientist in charge of one of Viking's three historic biology
experiments, the Labeled Release Experiment. The LRE's principal
investigator was Dr. Gilbert Levin. His son, Dr. Ron Levin, is now a
physicist at MIT.
In the summer of 1976 (when Viking landed on that oh-so-familiar
"ritual date" of July 20), Ron was a newly-graduated high school
student, assisting his father at JPL during that incomparable Viking
Summer. Hoagland was also present, covering the extraordinary Viking
story for millions of readers of a major magazine and a couple of
broadcast television networks.
Dr. Gil Levin's first-hand recollections of the whole affair are
recounted in a recent book by science writer Barry DiGregorio.143
the book, Levin relates the remarkable overreaction by JPL that
occurred in response to Ron Levin's naive efforts to "correct" what
seemed to him to be a deliberate distortion of the incoming Viking
Lander data. According to piGregorio's narrative:
"At about 2:00 p.m. PDT, the first color image from the surface of
another Planet, Mars, began to emerge on the JPL color video
monitors located in many of the surrounding buildings, specifically
set up for JPL employees and media Personnel to view the Viking
images. Gil and Ron Levin sat in the main control room where dozens
of video monitors and anxious technicians waited to see this
historic first color picture.
As the image developed on the
monitors, the crowd of scientists, technicians and media reacted
enthusiastically to a scene that would be absolutely unforgettable -
Mars in color. The image showed an Arizona-like landscape: blue sky,
brownish-red desert soil and gray rocks with green splotches.
"Gil Levin commented to Patricia Straat (his co-investigator) and
his son Ron, 'Look at that image! It looks like Arizona'" (see Color
"Two hours after the first color image appeared on the monitors, a
technician abruptly changed the image from the light-blue sky and
Arizona-like landscape to a uniform orange-red sky and landscape.
Ron Levin looked in disbelief as the technician went from monitor to
monitor making the change. Minutes later, Ron followed him,
resetting the colors to their original appearance. Levin and Straat
were interrupted when they heard someone being chastised.
It was Ron
Levin being chewed out by the Viking project director himself, James
S. Martin, Jr. Gil Levin immediately inquired as to what was going
on. Martin had caught Ron changing all the color monitors back to
their original settings. He warned Ron that if he tried something
like that again, he'd be thrown out of JPL for good. The director
then asked a TRW engineer assisting the Biology team, Ron Gilje, to
follow Ron Levin around to every color monitor and change it back to
the red landscape.
"What Gil Levin, Ron and Patricia Straat did not
know (even to this writing) is that the order to change the colors
came directly from the NASA administrator himself, Dr. James
Fletcher. Months later, Gil Levin sought out the JPL Viking imaging
team technician who actually made the changes and asked why it was
done. The technician responded that he had instructions from the
Viking imaging team that the Mars sky and landscape should be red
and went around to all the monitors, "tweaking" them to make it so.
Gil Levin said,
"The new settings showed the American flag (painted
on the Landers) as having purple stripes. The technician said that
the Mars atmosphere made the flag appear that way."
Hoagland had been at JPL that same afternoon, and vividly remembers
a similar shock when the "Arizona, Mars" image initially flashed on
the JPL monitors was suddenly transformed into a Martian "Red Light
District." He now kicks himself for not asking many more questions.
But, as he would later put it, "it was 1976 - and we all trusted
NASA back then."
One of the basic questions that should have been asked involves the
physics behind JPL's abrupt color alterations.
As Gil Levin phrased
it in DiGregorio's book:
If atmospheric dust were scattering red light and not blue, the sky
would appear red, but since the red would be at least partially
removed by the time the light hit the surface, its [the direct
sunlight's] reflection from the surface would make the surface
appear more blue than red. There would be less red light [in the
direct sunlight illumination] left to reflect.
And what about the sharp shadows of the
rocks in the black and white images yesterday? If significant
scattering of the light on Mars occurred (from lots of red dust in
the atmosphere], the sharp shadows in those images would not be
present, or at best, would appear fuzzy because of diffusion by the
Levin was describing the well-known phenomenon of "Raleigh
scattering" - whereby the similar-sized molecules of all planetary
atmospheres (be it the primary nitrogen of Earth, the carbon dioxide
atmosphere of Mars, or even the predominantly hydrogen atmospheres
of Jupiter and Saturn) all produce blue skies when sunlight passes
through them. If you examine the long Martian photographic record -
which encompasses hundreds of thousands of images acquired by dozens
of observatories even before the Space Age dawned - you can see
blatant evidence that Levin is right and JPL is wrong.
In 1997, before the arrival of the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft (the
first NASA Lander sent to Mars since Viking), the Hubble Telescope
was tasked to acquire a series of "weather forecast images" prior to
This long-distance reconnaissance detected a small dust
storm less than a month before the Pathfinder arrival, which, with
its potentially high winds, could have posed a serious threat to the
Pathfinder entry and landing.
The Hubble Investigator on the
Pathfinder Landing imagery, Dr. Philip James of the University of
Toledo, did note one potential impact on the Pathfinder Mission when
the dust storm safely dissipated:
"If dust diffuses to the landing site, the sky could turn out to be
pink like that seen by Viking... otherwise [based on the Hubble
images], Pathfinder will likely show blue sky with bright
In other words, based on the Hubble images taken just before the
landing, NASA astronomers working with the Hubble data fully
expected a surface view to match the blue skies their telescopic
images were showing. Instead, when the Pathfinder did arrive, the
skies, according to the official JPL Lander image releases, if
anything, seemed redder and more "dusty" than on the Viking images
from twenty years before (see Color Fig. 22).
In the years subsequent to Viking (and before Pathfinder), a number
of other NASA spacecraft had returned a variety of color views of
Mars. Remarkably, in all those images the tell-tale evidence of
major Raleigh scattering is blatantly apparent.
So we have a contradiction. If Mars has a blue sky and looks
remarkably like "Arizona" from the ground, why does NASA keep making
the images from the surface appear Technicolor red? What possible
agenda could it serve to deceive the public about the true colors of
Mars? An answer might be found if we go back to Mars: The Living
It turns out that DiGregorio's statement that the NASA administrator
was behind the monitor changing incident was based on a confirmation
of this from an official source - former JPL public affairs officer
Jurrie J. Van der Woude - and it had an even stranger and somewhat
In a letter to DiGregorio (also reproduced in Mars:
The Living Planet), Van der Woude wrote:
"Both Ron Wichelman [of JPL's Image Processing laboratory (IPL)] and
I were responsible for the color quality control of the Viking
Lander photographs, and Dr. Thomas Mutch, the Viking Imaging Team
leader, told us that he got a call from the NASA Administrator
asking that we destroy the Mars blue sky negative created from
the original digital data."
This bizarre sequence of events raises many disturbing questions.
For instance, why was the administrator of NASA so determined to
conceal the "true" colors of Mars from the American people and the
world in 1976?
Why would he order the head of the Viking Imaging
Team to literally eliminate an important piece of historical
evidence from the official mission archive - the original "blue-sky
negative" - if the initial release was only an honest technical
mistake? Wouldn't that record be an important part of the ultimate,
triumphant story of NASA scientists correcting initial scientific
errors, in their continued exploration of the frontier and alien
environment of another world?
And why would a young teenager (the
son of one of the key investigators on the Viking mission, no less)
be threatened with expulsion by the director of the project for
simply tweaking a couple of color monitors around the lab?
In truth, none of Ron Levin's story (or Van der Woude's significant
confirmation), makes any scientific sense unless certain individuals
at the highest levels in NASA felt compelled - for some arcane
reason - to hide at all costs the visible appearance of the actual
Beyond that, there is an even bigger "biological problem" for the
conventional NASA view of the true colors and environment of Mars.
Levin suggested that there were other hues on Mars than just dull
browns and reds. This was verified by members of the Viking imaging
team, who confirmed there were blue and green patches on rocks that
The only rational explanation for these
"changing patches" on the rocks, shifting color with the rising and
dropping seasonal temperatures and atmospheric availability of water
is biological entities, like simple plants or lichens, reacting to
changing biospheric conditions.
If it is the former, he certainly can point to an extensive,
accumulating quantity of startling evidence that calls into serious
question the conventional (read "NASA") view of Mars, as "a cold,
As recently as the 1950s, there was a prevailing "Lowellian" view of
Mars as a possible "abode of life." This view, so named in homage to
Percival Lowell, the nineteenth century astronomer who made the
first scientific observations of Mars with a semi-modern telescope,
saw Mars as cold, dry and harsh, but not uninhabitable. While his
observations of canal networks were pretty much discredited by the
1950s, there were many who maintained that the Lowellian Mars might
still be valid, with life functioning at a low level, but surviving.
One key clue to support this idea was the so-called seasonal "wave
of darkening" that seemed to sweep from each hemisphere's pole
toward the equator in their respective spring seasons. This
darkening wave rolls across the planet at a rate of thirty-five
miles a day, and could be attributed to melting polar caps releasing
water into the atmosphere and "awakening" the planet's simple plant
This was disputed because it was later found that the southern
cap was entirely carbon dioxide ice. However, Odyssey's new 2001
observations implied that there were vast quantities of water ice
all over the planet that could fuel these darkening waves. While the
reality of the "wave" is still disputed, no one argues that certain
patches on Mars do darken in the spring and summer.
The countervailing NASA view of Mars (to which most planetary
scientists in and outside NASA have quietly acquiesced) - a "dry,
dead desert planet" with an atmosphere so thin that not even water
could stay in a liquid state on its surface for more than few
seconds - was established by the first NASA mission to view the
Mariner 4 arrived at the Red Planet in the summer
of 1965 and revealed a harsh landscape of barren, cratered deserts.
Measurements taken at that time supposedly established that the
atmosphere was too thin to support water in a liquid state, and was
almost 100% carbon dioxide - leaving the probability for finding
life as extremely unlikely.
That view prevailed until the Viking missions of the mid 1970s, when
the two Landers were sent to test the soil for signs of microbial
life. What most people do not remember is that the Lander tests for
life both came back positive.
NASA, however, quickly moved to
suppress this news and present an "alternative" view - that the
results were just a "mistake," a chemical reaction and not proof of
life on Mars. However, Dr. Levin has always insisted that his
instrument's results were positive for life, and not a result of a
mere "chemical interaction."
His case was bolstered in 1996 when
NASA announced the discovery of microfossils in a meteorite from
Obviously, if there were once micro-organisms living on Mars,
there was no reason that they could not be present on Mars today.
The only remaining argument against that conclusion was the supposed
absence of a "biologically kind" environment, i.e. liquid water.
Levin himself had argued for some time that this was not really an
issue. He presented a paper describing the circumstances under which
water could remain in a liquid state on Mars. He pointed out that
the NASA view of Mars as unable to support water at the surface was
based on a faulty assumption - that the water was evenly distributed
throughout Mars' atmosphere, rather than in "the lower one to three
km," as confirmed by Pathfinder.
So, the reality was that there was plenty of evidence that Mars was
not only capable of harboring life, but that NASA had in fact
already proven that to be the case, as far back as 1976. NASA's
determined efforts to suppress such a conclusion would seem to fly
in the face of the agency's publicly stated mandate.
It does not,
however, conflict with the agency's probable secret agenda, driven
by Brookings, which would almost dictate this behavior as a kind of
pre-conditioning over generations - not publicly admitting the trutn
until the populace was deemed "ready."
Evidently, by the time of the two 2003 Mars Exploration Rovers, we
still weren't ready. The two rovers, named Spirit and Opportunity,
were scheduled to land in Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum,
respectively, both in the equatorial regions of Mars.
reason for the landing site selections was officially the search for
water, or at least areas where water had once flowed. It did not
escape our notice that both of these sites were squarely in the path
of outflow channels from our predicted Mars tidal oceans. If NASA
was looking to confirm our tidal thesis, there were no two better
places to land on Mars.
Spirit was the first of the two rovers to
land (in Gusev Crater), which it did successfully on January 4,
2004. Almost immediately, the Mars color controversy raged again.
Within a day of the landing, NASA/JPL released the first official
full-color image of the landing site, and it once again had the
Technicolor red skies and distorted, "red-shifted" color
calibration. This made everything, even the rocks, look reddish.
Almost immediately, articles appeared on the web noting that the
colors in the color calibration dial were all wrong compared to
images of them taken on Earth.
One reason for this is that NASA
chose to use filters in the infrared spectrum instead of visible
light on the "Pancam" color imager, and this created the horribly
distorted reddish nightmare that was seen in the NASA press release
NASA did not respond directly to the new controversy, but instead
sent out a number of surrogates, including a Dr. Phil Plait, an
astronomer who had a debunking website called "Bad Astronomy."
Feeding him and their other surrogates information about the Pancam,
Plait claimed that the IR filters were responsible for the reddish
hue, and that in any event, it was next to impossible to get the
colors correct because of uncertainties in calibrating to the actual
conditions on Mars.
However, others, like Keith Laney (who had processed landing-site
MOC images for the rover program) had been working with the new
color images as well. Using a previously published paper by Dr.
Levin as a basis for his color calibration technique, Keith was able
to get remarkable results.
It turned out that what Plait had said
about color imaging with the Pancams was not entirely correct. What
makes the process difficult was not that colors are assigned to IR
band filters alone, but the fact that NASA used the wrong filters
for each of the RGB channels, making it almost impossible to correct
for. In fact, if you didn't know how to correct for the deliberate
misallocation, you could never get close to the true color of a
scene at a given moment.
Fortunately, Keith did know how to make
this correction, and he was able to produce color images of Mars
that are far more accurate and logical than what NASA has released
(see Color Fig. 23).
As you can see from the images (color insert) - contrary to Plait's
assertions - it is not only possible to get very accurate,
"approximate" true-color images from the Pancam imagers using
Laney's techniques, but they can also be produced with consistency.
Yet NASA/JPL, with all their resources, can't seem to get even one
image close to what Laney produced all alone from his desktop
computer. In fact, as you go to the official website, there isn't
one color Pancam image from either landing site that looks like
anything other than the silly "Technicolor red" skies Plait so
The picture of Mars that emerges from Laney's images is not one of
some alien, forbidding landscape, but of a familiar, almost
comfortable environment that makes sense to the eye. We can easily
picture ourselves standing next to the rovers as they circumnavigate
the debris fields and rock gardens of the Martian landscape.
So what is a more reasonable picture of the surface of Mars, Laney's
carefully crafted work based on the papers of two highly respected
scientists, or NASA's absurd, garish, Technicolor rendition of a
"Red Planet" that looks like something out of a 1950s B-movie? If
Laney can do it, why can't NASA? Well, it turns out, they can,
We found a number of Pancam color images taken on Earth using the
same filters as on the color press release images coming from Mars.
Miraculously, NASA was somehow able to get the red balance corrected
so that the pictures look entirely normal. This capability seems to
have eluded them when processing the images from the surface of
Mars, but it has not eluded independent workers like Laney.
So is there, really, any reason to suspect that NASA is playing coy
with the true colors of Mars? Or is it all, as Plait and others of
his ilk have alleged, just a bit of confusion on the part of
"pseudo-scientists" like Laney and Dr. Levin? The answer comes, as
it always does if one is willing to look, from NASA itself.
What the authors have easily done, but Plait and NASA apparently
have not, is to simply do a few color comparisons of objects we know
the color of. When we did, we found that the Spirit and Opportunity
airbags, far from being the orange-red color in the landing site
images, are actually a fairly bright off-white.
Indeed, a simulation video produced by Cornell University depicts
them as white. As does JPL's own web page depicting the airbag
tests.147 In fact, all you have to do is look at the skin tone on
the arm of the test engineer holding the scale to see that the color
in that image is correct (see Color Fig. 24).148,149
By contrast, when you go to the Mars Rovers website and go to the
first color images of the Spirit landing site, you see no mention of
the IR filters or the fact that the images are false color. In fact,
NASA/JPL even altered images of the rover airbag tests, distorting
the bag color to look as they do in the Technicolor Red polluted
press release images.
This is also easily verified. In the background of the fake-color
air bag image (from the press release gallery of the MER website)150
is a snap-on tool box, a site familiar to anyone in the aerospace
industry. In scrutinizing the tool box, you'll see that all of the
normally silver pieces on the box have a distinct reddish-orange
tint to them.
This is completely at odds with the way the boxes are
painted when they leave the snap-on factory.151 In fact, the press
release pages are littered with images of the Rovers in testing with
the color altered to make them appear redder.
So if - as Plait and others flatly insist - there is no intent to
deceive on NASA's part, why are the images of the airbag tests done
on Earth (and flatly not photographed with an IR-filtered Pancam)
depicted on the Rover press release pages as red-orange? And why is
there no mention of false color or IR filters in the initial NASA
The answer is obvious. NASA has deliberately altered the color
balance of the press release images to make the bags appear the same
color as they do in the Technicolor images of the Martian surface.
In fact, they went out of their way to change the coloring on press
release images of the tests to make the bags appear reddish.
they were to mention the IR filters or false color processes, then
everyone would know the sky on Mars isn't really Technicolor red.
Fortunately for us, they missed a couple of images of the airbags
shown in their actual off-white color.
This pattern goes on in the press release pages. The first mention
of "True Color" on the press release pages comes on January 10, 2004
when an image of the color calibration dial was posted. It made no
mention of the IR filters or the false color of the Martian sky, or
the fact that the "color" images released up to that point were
The first mention of the term "approximate true color"
does not appear in press releases until January 19, after the color
controversy had erupted and NASA had started to receive a lot of
e-mails on the subject.152 Even so, the term "approximate true
color" to describe the Technicolor red skies is at the least
misleading. As Laney has shown, NASA's concept of "approximate true
color" is laughably wrong.
Amazingly, it's also clear, going though the press release pages,
that NASA is quite capable of getting the color right - when they
want to. Here is a press release version of the American flag logo
seen above, with the color correctly rendered and very close to
Laney's results. Evidently, it was safe to make the color right in
this image because the sky and horizon were not visible.
Clearly, beyond a reasonable doubt we have shown that NASA has had a
decades long desire to give the public the wrong impression of
Mars's true colors. And that ruse has continued to this day.
was only when ESA's Mars Express returned one of its first color
images of Mars that we understood exactly why.
Spirit and Opportunity
Just about two weeks after Spirit arrived on Mars in Gusev Crater,
ESA's Mars Express took advantage of their first opportunity to
image the crater in high-res color.
Our hopes that Dr. Gehard
Neukum, the principal investigator for the HRSC camera might give us
a more honest look at Mars were almost immediately fulfilled. Mars
Express got an excellent view of Gusev on January 16, 2004, and it
became one of the first images released by the HRSC team (on January
24, the same day Opportunity landed in Meridiani) in full color.
What we saw not only surprised us, it stunned us.
Both Viking and Global Surveyor had imaged Gusev in grayscale. In
both sets of images, the crater could be seen to have very large
dark splotches roughly in the middle. The shape of these splotches
had changed from Viking in 1976 to MGS in the late 1990s, indicating
they were at least somewhat transient and not permanent markings.
What made the Mars Express Gusev image so immediately interesting
was the fact that those dark markings were revealed by Mars Express
to be various amazing shades of green (see Color Fig. 25).
Reaction to this startling European Gusev image was immediate, and
highly controversial. The blatant "green" indicated to many the
distinct possibility of current plant life on the floor of Gusev.
Linda Moulton Howe, a regular contributor to Coast to Coast AM,
managed something of a scoop when, shortly after the above Mars
Express image was published, she managed to get an on-the-record
statement153 from Michael McKay, Flight Operations Director of the
European Space Agency:
"Like the green in the Gusev
Crater picture... it certainly gives rise to the speculation
that there could be algae [there]...
It certainly gives much more weight
to such speculation, particularly since here on the Earth's
glaciers and [in] the Alps and [at] the North Pole, you can see
algae in the ice itself that turns rather a pink color or
Just tying that observation on the
Earth together with things we are starting to see on Mars,
certainly adds a bit more weight and people will seriously be
thinking about these questions and trying to put some definite
answers to them..."
Remarkably, right after this extremely leading, extremely
provocative statement, the color of the official Mars Express Gusev
image on the German Space Agency website was curiously
"recalibrated,"154 while simultaneously the caption on the official
ESA site carrying the Gusev "green" image was also altered - with a
key line added:
"Note the green coloring is an effect of image
However, inexplicably, the image on the site remained unchanged.
Given that a "recalibrated" version of this same image had just
replaced the original on the official German website, this is
completely baffling. Unless it was designed as a message that the
original bright green version of the data was valid.
Our reaction was a bit more direct.
We published, on the Enterprise
Mission website, a side-by-side comparison [Color Fig. 25] of the
provocative old/new Mars Express image and a "colorized" comparison
of the same Gusev region.155 The latter was unofficially created
from official NASA THEMIS data and colorized (from the same data) by
space artist and NASA contractor Don Davis.
It was certainly obvious from this particular comparison that
something indeed was/is very wrong with NASA's Martian colors. Even
after the officially attempted correction on the German website, on
enlargement of the revised Mars Express image, the wispy streaks
were still green - albeit a darker bluish-green, with maybe some
purple thrown in. What was truly fascinating was that, strikingly
obvious in the new color image, the "streaks" emanated directly from
the dark crater floors.
This visible preference for the wisps to
somehow want to interact with craters was not easily explainable in
terms of the prevailing NASA model, which still maintains that the
sinuous dark features on Gusev's floor are simply random wind
streaks, caused by lighter dust being removed by local dust devils
from the darker, underlying surface.
In fact, the imaging comparison revealed the opposite. The Martian
winds are preferentially removing something dark from the floors of
the even darker craters, and depositing it on the plains between
these craters - as the wispy, blue-green, purple streaks [Fig.
11-5]. This is plainly evident in the recalibrated German image.
This is also where two completely independent Mars observations
suddenly came together.
When Spirit landed on the floor of Gusev on January 3, 2004, one of
its first high-resolution surface color images showed a mysterious
patch of "something" lying a few feet from the Lander [Fig. 11-6].
The nickname the rover science team eventually gave this curious
surface feature was the "magic carpet."
When Spirit descended from
its Lander a few days later, instead of investigating the "magic
carpet" close-up with its unique array of instruments, the rover was
commanded to drive as fast as possible several hundred feet away to
Bonneville Crater. The mystery of the magic carpet was literally
left behind, never to be solved.
But what if these two issues are connected? What if Mars Express'
new color image of the mysterious dark streaks covering sections of
the floor of Gusev Crater is somehow connected to Spirit's equally
provocative observations on that crater floor, of the mysterious
"magic carpet" area.
Suppose that the Spirit images of a "mud-like
surface feature" were exactly that-images of Martian mud? Suppose
that a highly concentrated brine solution lies just under the
surface rocks and dust, beneath major sections or this ancient
crater floor? After all, this was supposed to be an ancient crater
lake at one time.
Then suppose that, since it was summer at the Gusev site when Spirit
landed, this subsurface brine solution had once again seasonally
melted (surface Martian temperatures can be as high as 70° F),
creating a layer of mud just beneath the surface rocks and dust.
Spirit lands... the airbags drag across this partially wet, very
sticky surface, and - viola! - Spirit captures the first image of a
genuine "mud puddle" on the planet Mars.
So, what has this to do with the "greenish" color and sinuous nature
of the streak, and their obvious preference for craters? If the
"Magic Carpet" was indeed caused by a briny "water table" lying
beneath the ancient, dry lake Gusev surface, then every crater in
the area, having punched through this surface crust to varying
depths, should extend well below this dry and dusty surface, well
down into the brine layer.
On Earth, such a situation would be
tailor-made for all varieties of simple (and even complex) plant
life to begin to grow - particularly certain kinds of algae.
species of terrestrial algae are extremely adapted to highly saline
conditions,156 and often reproduce by creating spores, which are
then redistributed by local winds, forming other colonies.157
At Gusev, if the craters in the area were indeed harboring
conditions conducive to some special algae growth - primarily by
extending below the local water table - then one could easily
speculate that the algae mats within some craters grow in the
Martian spring and summer, and ultimately reproduce. Their spores
are then carried by the winds out of the craters to form the long,
sinuous streaks across the intercrater surfaces observed from orbit.
The "streaks," then, would be more colonies of algae from the
craters, spread by algae spores surviving for a time between the
And that would explain why NASA chose to land Spirit right smack in
the middle of these dark, organic streaks.
It was obvious that this was indeed the unstated reason why Gusev
had been targeted for one of the Rovers. NASA wanted to check
first-hand on the dark streaks and find out if they were indeed
simple plant life.
The Mars Express team had then effectively
"outed" NASA's real objective by publishing the bright green image
of Gusev. They probably got a lot of static from the Rover team
through the back channels (remember, NASA was already embroiled in a
bit of a color controversy over the Spirit surface images), so they
issued a "corrected" version of the data, but never withdrew their
initial bright green version.
To us, this confirmed that ESA was going to take a fairly neutral
stance on hot political issues. It might mean that we would never
get a press release calling Cydonia artificial, but we would get
honest data, at least. NASA however, was not so committed to
At the same time as all this was going on, the second Martian rover
Opportunity, had made a successful landing in Meridiani Planum. On
Sol 33, its thirty-third day on Mars, the rover was commanded to
roll forward to begin intensive investigation of a small section of
rocky outcrop rimming the small crater that it had landed in on
January 25, 2004.
The outcrop, only a few inches high but which
spans approximately 180- of the crater's interior, had been dubbed
by the JPL Rover Team "Opportunity Ledge." The specific section that
Opportunity was ordered to investigate was about in the middle of
this outcrop, is approximately ten inches high and was named by the
team "El Capitan."
Preparatory to actually drilling into El Capitan and making detailed
composition measurements with the array of sophisticated instruments
on the Rover's arm, Opportunity was commanded to take a series of
close-up images of the untouched surface of the rock with the B&W
microscopic CCD camera attached to the arm.
One of those images
revealed an amazing sight: An apparent Martian fossil [Fig. 11-7].
A close-up enlargement revealed apparently snapped-off body
geometry, at least five visible cylindrical segments, and a hint of
other fossil-like features buried in the surrounding rock itself -
all classic hallmarks of a former living organism. After we
discovered and posted an initial version of this claim on the
Enterprise site on March 2, 2004, as might be expected we began
receiving e-mails from around the world.
They came from amateur and
professionals alike, and all pointing out an almost unbelievable
resemblance between our Martian fossil and a well-known terrestrial
counterpart. Quoting from one correspondent, James Calhoun:
"I have been a collector of marine fossils for thirty-four years, an
amateur to be sure, but with years of field experience.
When I saw
the 'Fossil' pic [on the Enterprise site], it was clear to me that
it met a number of the basic criteria of fossilization. RCH was
correct in that "scale does not matter," as the physical
characteristics of the item are immediately apparent, and it is sad
that the MER team did not present a professional paleontologist to
In that light, I have heard a varied number of explanations
as to what type of fossil this could be, everything from a segmented
worm (annelid) to a shrimp (crustacean). I would like you guys to
consider that based on the symmetry of the object, that it could be
in fact an early Crinoid, a filter feeding marine plant-like animal,
a type with a calcium carbonate exoskeleton (this is Earth-based of
course, the Martian exoskeleton (could] have been of a differing
mineral composition). I have included a couple of pictures for
symmetry and scale reference.
Notice the triangular symmetry in the
'branch areas,' not to mention the segments, and also that the scale
is inline with the 'size of the blueberries.' Your opinion would be
Thanks for your time and I appreciate the work the
The images Jim included with his e-mail knocked our socks off, as
the saying goes. His crinoids were a perfect match for our Martian
A crinoid [sometimes called a "sea lily," because of its
superficial appearance to a spreading flower] is, as Calhoun
described, "a filter feeding, marine, plant-like animal."
first appeared in Earth's primeval seas over 500 million years ago,
in the so-called "Cambrian Era," climbing to dominance over the next
150 million years, before receding once again in the terrestrial
Crinoids lived in ocean water - ranging from a few feet deep to
several miles - anchoring their stems on the ocean floor and feeding
on whatever nutrients drifted by. If you look at a combined map of
where JPL landed its two rovers and the Odyssey Gamma Ray
Spectrometer orbital determination of water abundance in the upper
one meter of Martian soil, a glance will suffice to show the rovers
are indeed exploring none other than the shallows of our two
proposed equatorial Martian tidal oceans, almost as if that had been
It takes almost no imagination to picture this site several million
years ago as a quiet tidal pool, filled with gently waving creatures
of the sea, until one day something extraordinary happened, and this
pool and all of Mars was forever changed.
So, upon making this extraordinary discovery, what did NASA and the
rover team promptly do? Did they call a press conference and hail
their discovery to the world? Did they head to the White House to
brief the president on the most momentous scientific discovery in
all of human history? No.
They immediately took the grinder (technically called the "Rock
Abrasion Tool" - RAT), and ground it into powder. Instead of moving
the grinder a couple inches to the left or right, they simply bored
down on the fossil, totally obliterating it.
Before calling this a scientific crime against humanity, perhaps we
should consider that this was simply a mistake. Theoretically, it is
possible they simply didn't see it for what it was, that there was
no one on the team that could recognize the tell-take signature of
fossilized plant life. That scenario is possible, but not likely,
given the "fictional predisposition" of at least one of the rover
science team member.
In 2000, Geoffrey Landis-a NASA scientist attached to the NASA-Glenn
Research Center, in Ohio - wrote his first Mars science fiction
novel, "Mars Crossing."
Landis had been a principal investigator for
one experiment on the Mars Pathfinder Sojourner rover mission to the
outflow of an ancient water channel, Ares Vallis. As a result, his
"Mars" in the new novel was highly praised, by both veteran science
fiction writers and planetary scientists alike, as "totally
"High-quality hard SF written with the authenticity of a NASA
insider... Landis has given us a legend of our own near future..."
Geoffrey Landis is also now a member of the current JPL Rover
Science Team, a member of the "atmospheric group." This makes what
he did in his novel six years ago very interesting, to say the
least. Three quarters through his novel, Landis has one of his
characters, Brandon Weber, get lost in the arid Martian desolation
of endless dunes and dust.
Tired and scared, the astronaut finally
climbs a small butte to get his bearings, and makes a startling,
"There was a fracture line running down the middle of the butte; one
half of it was two feet higher than the other. It made a natural
seat. Without any sense of wonder, without even a sense of irony, he
reached out and touched it.
Embedded in the layered sandstone
exposed by the crack, it held a perfectly preserved fossil. It
looked like a cluster of shiny black hoses, clumped together at the
bottom, branching out into a dozen tentacles at the top. In the same
section of rock, he could see others, of every size from tiny ones
to one three feet long.
There were other fossils too, smaller ones
in different shapes, a bewildering variety.
"'I name you Mars Life Brandonii,' he said."
How did Landis-a Pathfinder and MER Rover Mission NASA
scientist-somehow know, four years before the Opportunity mission
even landed? And why didn't he, or anyone else on the Lander science
team, say anything about it, or even raise an objection to its
There is no question that the rover team saw the crinoid fossil. Not
only did they use it as the base target for the drill, they gave it
a target name: "Guadalupe."
Our Lady of Guadalupe is a Roman
Catholic religious icon, functionally equivalent to the Egyptian
Isis, the goddess of life. Yet after discovering a fossil that could
confirm the existence of complex life on Mars sometime in the past,
and even naming it after a "goddess of life," they destroyed it.
Since Opportunity's instrument suite was not designed to look for
signs of life (it was strictly set up to be a roving geologist),
Guadalupe's destruction served no real scientific purpose. It had
long ago taken on the properties of its surrounding rock. The only
testament to the fact that it once had lived was that unmistakable
segmented shape in the rocks - and NASA destroyed it.
So the game seems to be to discover evidence of life beyond Earth,
but do everything possible to publicly denounce it. The agency
seemed to be following a carefully directed script, one that at this
point did not include the finding of life on Mars. Spirit and
Opportunity had been sent to do one thing - confirm the existence of
ancient water (and current water-ice) on Mars, at the most.
Viking, a finding of actual life would have been politically
unacceptable. Clearly, the agency was on a timetable, a
Brookings-like pattern of preconditioning to avoid the
"unpredictable" shock that might come with an announcement of
In Mars exploration since 1976, NASA has discovered evidence of
microbial life in two Viking-era experiments,
discovered that the
water table of the atmosphere is conducive to liquid water on the
planet's surface today (Pathfinder)
detected evidence of a
muddy-briny surface in the bottom of a shallow crater (Spirit)
detected visual evidence of algae and spores from orbit (Mars
detected large amounts of (probably) organically produced
methane in the atmosphere (Mars Express)
found an unmistakable
fossil analog to a form of life that once flourished on Earth
In each case, at each crossroad, they have chosen to
debunk, ignore, suppress and even destroy the evidence that could
support a finding of current-day life on Mars.
Along the way, the
only time they even lukewarmly supported such a possible discovery
was when they announced the finding of four-billion-year-old
fossilized bacteria in a meteorite on Earth (which raised the
likelihood of contamination of the sample), and then promptly backed
off from even that timid claim.
Clearly, each successive Mars mission was supposed to move the
pieces forward ever-so-slightly - but, as with Apollo 10, NASA would
not allow any undesirable findings to alter the game plan, simply
because "it wasn't time yet." However, soon after the great crinoid
cover-up, we learned that the time might indeed be at hand.
Chapter Eleven Images
Close-up of highly reflective, geometric panels on
eastern side of the Face.
Panels align with central symmetry axis,
not with the image scan.
Unique lighting geometry of this pre-dawn
image acts like an x-ray,
optically revealing the same underlying
architectural substructure of the Face seen
at much lower resolution
(10 X) detected in nighttime THEMIS IR image (ASU).
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