Chapter Eleven

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 determine.

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 information:

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. 11-4].

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 experiment.

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, artificial mirrors.


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.


Hoagland 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 half.


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.


Comparing the 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 anomalous.


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 of rocks."

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.


This key 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 2001.


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 Surveyor images.

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


In 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 Fig. 21).


"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 [atmospheric] scattering.

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 the landing.


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 clouds."144

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 Planet.

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 sinister angle.


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 Martian surface.

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 changed seasonally.145


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, uninhabitable hell."

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 life.


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 planet close-up.


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 Mars.


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.


The ostensible 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 images.

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 readily defends.

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, actually.

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 press releases?

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.


And if 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 false color.


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.


But it 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 green-grey color.


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 processing..."

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.


Some 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 crater floors.

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 disseminating truth.

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 comment.


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 most appreciated.


Thanks for your time and I appreciate the work the team does."

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 "fossil."


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."


Crinoids 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 fossil record.

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 planned.

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 authentic."


One wrote:

"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, serendipitous discovery.

"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 destruction?

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.


Like 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 "life."

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 Express)

  • 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 (Opportunity)

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



Fig. 11-4

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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