Monday, November 4, 2013

Point-by-point critique of 'Ancient Aliens on Mars' PART ONE

        I don't propose to write much about the nauseating Foreword to this book -- an exercise in adolescent petulance whose main target is Dr Stuart Robbins. Robbins is a well qualified working astronomer who knows infinitely more about planetary astronomy than Mike Bara. The foreword (which Bara inexplicably calls a "Forward") is available on Mike's blog. This is not quite the same as the book version -- it includes a ridiculous juvenile cartoon depicting me driving a bus over Stuart Robbins, plus other cringe-worthy excesses.

I'll just write two things:

ONE: Mr Michael Bara, you wretched, ignorant, belligerent man, if you're going to accuse me of sending sexually harassing messages to your female FB friends, LET'S SEE THE EVIDENCE. James Concannon has provided a specific and clear example of sexual harassment in the other direction. Unless you can show a similarly specific example of what you mean, SHUT THE FUCK UP.

TWO: You never did get around to explaining why the ziggurat does not appear in images that are far, far more up-to-date and with far, far better resolution than the Apollo frame. Now's your chance. WHERE IS THAT ZIGGY, BARA?

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Wide Angle Camera
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Narrow Angle Camera
Japanese Selene lunar orbiter


So, now to the book. There's a Picasa gallery containing all the figures from the book (plus some that got trimmed out,) and you might like to have that handy as you read on.

1.  p.40 "In Egyptian mythology, the Sphinx God Horus was also frequently associated with the planet Mars, and in fact the Sphinx was at one time painted red in honor of this connection. They also shared a name in the ancient Egyptian tongue, Hor-Dshr, literally 'Horus the Red.' "

This is pure Graham Hancock, and therefore unreliable. As is now well known, Hancock was a major fan of recreational pharmaceuticals, and they are what largely inspired his work Fingerprints of the Gods ( see Hancock's page on the Rational Wiki.)  As far as I know, the ancient name of the Great Sphinx of Giza was Hor-em-Akhet (trans: Horus of the horizon) but then I make no claim to any expertise in Egyptology. I was able to find some corroboration for the claim that the Sphinx was once stained red. Interesting. -ish. Nothing to do with Mars, though (just like the foreword.)

2. p.41. We know we're in trouble with this book when we read this as early on as p.42:

"Because of its highly "eccentric" ... orbit ... Mars' distance relative to Earth varies a great deal. In fact, Mars' orbit is so elliptical that its distance to the Earth can be as much as 249 million miles at its farthest to as little as about 34 million miles at its theoretical closest approach."

This, of course, is almost word for word the same catastrophic error that Mike Bara made in his earlier book The Choice. I got on his case about it, so did an Amazon reviewer, and so did Stuart Robbins. In case you're wondering why it's such a dreadful howler, Robbins explains.

3. pp. 42-43. It immediately gets worse, much worse. Mike Bara reveals such incredible ignorance about simple astronomical terminology that I really had to force myself to keep reading. On p. 42 we see an illustration of Earth and Mars at conjunction, which Bara labels as aphelion. On p. 43 an illustration of opposition is labeled as perihelion. You can see these images as #7 and #8 in the Picasa gallery, along with snarky comments mocking Stuart Robbins. Can you possibly imagine anything more embarrassing for an author than ridiculing his critics and getting it wrong??

It doesn't stop. He writes "[Mars and Earth] are at their closest to each other when they are on the same side of the Sun and both at their perihelion points." (p.43)

Not true. They're closest when Mars is at perihelion and Earth is at aphelion. What an unmitigated disaster these two pages are.

4. pp.53-56 At the end of an exposition of a device called the Jenkins Radio Camera, Bara shows us one of its prints. This apparatus was a far-fetched idea used during the 1924 opposition. In some way that Bara doesn't make quite clear, this thing detected radio signals from Mars and made them into crude and very fuzzy images. You can see the three images Bara shows as #60, #61 and #63 in the Picasa gallery, plus a better pic of Voldemort (#62.) Mike is saying "Oh look, doesn't this radio transmission from Mars look like a J.K. Rowling character?"

...which is a very strange fantasy for someone who has repeatedly insisted that there's no such thing as pareidolia (and he says it yet again, on p.99)!

5. pp. 60-63  Mike Bara really loves the astronomer Tom Van Flandern, for some reason -- possibly because Van Flandern is the only professional astronomer Mike ever met.  Van Flandern, who died in 2009, was a very bright spark who had some ideas that are considered eccentric by the mainstream. One of them was that the accepted theory about how the solar system was formed is wrong.

The accepted theory is that planets are left behind in orbit as a circumstellar accretion disk shrinks and coalesces. Van Flandern said "No, the star forms first, then spins off planets in pairs in a process called solar fission." Fission is depicted in Picasa gallery #38.

In vigorously supporting this now discredited theory, Mike once again shows ignorance. On p.61 he writes "The accretion model ... requires the planets to have highly eccentric (elliptical) orbits during their proto-planet phase." On p. 63 he writes "Only the fission theory can explain why all the planets are in the so-called 'plane of the ecliptic,' the equatorial plane of the Sun. If the accretion model was correct, planets would form all over the place and have orbits at all different angles to the Sun."

As far as I know, both those statements are what is technically known as poppycock. The second one, in particular, simply contradicts common sense. If planets form from a spinning disc, it's pretty obvious that all their orbits will stay in the same plane as the disc that gave them birth. Duhhhh. (Pluto is a different story).

6. pp. 69-78 Another Van Flandern idea that both Bara and Hoagland love is that Mars was once the moon of a larger planet that exploded. Hoagland has also proposed that Mars was tidally locked to this planet that he calls Planet V or Maldek. I previously blogged about how these two ideas, not by any means silly in themselves, don't sit well together. I'll just quote myself (ref. Picasa gallery #28-34):

        There are the two claimed tidal bulges, Arabia at the 60° longitude and Tharsis at 240°. They define Mars's orientation in relation to the claimed parent planet. And it's tidally locked, too, so Tharsis is always on the planet side. But then, what happens when the parent planet explodes? Van Flandern observes, correctly, that one hemisphere of Mars is much more heavily cratered than the other. So logically that would be on the Tharsis side, the equatorial west.

        Except it isn't. It's the entire Southern hemisphere that got preferentially splatted. The hemisphere that was not pointing at the planet when the biggie went down. Oops...

I'm obliged to my commenter Dee for pointing out that Hoagland himself cited this problem in his web article. (Load this page into MSIE, the only browser that will render it readably.) He writes:

"the authors acknowledge that this presents some serious problems for this entire model."

He has a wriggle-out which begins...

"We propose that as it was approaching Planet V toward its ultimate collision, Planet K passed close by Mars in its orbit around Planet V (Figure 19).  This close encounter gravitationally interfered with the tidal lock between Mars with Planet V.  In fact, it began a radical, gravitationally induced reorientation of the entire Mars’ spin axis relative to Planet V."

It's all very hypothetical and, to me at least, not at all convincing.

7. pp.90-105 This is really bad writing -- or perhaps more accurately, bad book planning. Fifteen pages (of a total 216) about the early discovery of the so-called Face on Mars. It reads now, in 2013, like a piece of discarded history that some old codger wants to reminisce about (Mike is 53 and not yet a codger.)  We have so much better imagery available for inspection now that, really, who cares what DiPietro, Molenaar and Carlotto did to enhance the image?

However, I can't resist once again coming to the defense of someone I admired greatly -- Gerry Soffen, Chief Scientist of the Viking missions to Mars in 1976. It was the Viking 1 Orbiter, of course, that took the picture that Richard Hoagland built a career out of -- Frame 035A72 (#99 in the Picasa gallery.) Gerry Soffen presented the image to the press on 26th July, and added "When we took another picture a few hours later, it all went away; it was just a trick,  just the way light fell on it." Mike Bara has been saying for years, and repeats here on p. 92, that Soffen was lying. This blog previously discussed this in September 2012. Picasa gallery #101 is the actual announcement, showing left to right Jim Martin, Viking Project Manager, Tobias Owen (who first spotted the "face") and Gerry Soffen.

The basis of Bara's accusation is that there was no second picture, and could not have been because by the time the orbiter hit that latitude again the "face" was rotated out of range. How far? Bara, very math-challenged as we know, cannot be more precise than "between 15 and more than 20.4 miles." (p.92)

Well, let's see. I prefer to work in kilometers but for the purpose of explicit comparison with Bara, let's do it in miles. The difference in longitude on successive passes of a satellite is known as the "walk."

Orbit of Viking 1: Polar, 24.66 hours
Rotation period of Mars: 24.622 hours
Equatorial radius of Mars: 2110 miles
Latitude of Cydonia: ~40°N

During one Viking orbit, Mars rotates 360 x 24.66 / 24.622 degrees.
That's slightly more than a full rotation -- 360.55°.
So when Viking came around to 40°N latitude again, the "face" was 0.55° cross-track

Rotational circumference at 40° is 2.π.2210.cos40 = 2 x 3.1416 x 2210 x 0.766 = 10,636 miles
Walk for 0.55° = 10636 x 0.55 / 360 = 16.25 miles.

So in fact that does fall within Bara's "between 15 and more than 20.4 miles" (which is a very strange way of expressing a range, actually.) But why couldn't he have done the math himself?

Well now let's see what that means for the camera, and a possible second shot. Here's the dataset for 035A72 (the designation means the 72nd image taken on the 35th orbit by Orbiter A.) Data from this source.


VO75 1B PICNO= 035A72 
FSC 26588045 OET-GMT 76 207 15 25 14 TPER +00 12 05 
RNG= 5239 KM HFOV= 55 KM VFOV= 50 KM SCL= 46 M/PXL 
NOR AZ 154 DG SUN AZ 88 DG S/C AZ 323 DG INA 79 DG EMA 10 DG 
PHA 86 DG SUNS LS= 99.2 DG EDR= CN1244 01 MAX-D= 
LAT C= +40.90 UL= +41.14 UR= +40.28 LL= +41.52 LR= +40.65 
LONG C= 9.52 UL= 8.76 UR= 9.28 LL= 9.77 LR= 10.28 

HFOV means Horizontal Field of View -- the width of the image on the ground. It's 55 km, or 34 miles. It follows that, since the "Face" was only 16.25 miles cross-track, it was in range. Now, I'm not saying I know that second image exists, only that it could have been taken. Mike Bara is mistaken, and I call on him to withdraw the accusation.

There's much more detail on the Malin Education page. Pseudoscientists like Hoagland & Bara hate Michael Malin because they think he keeps too tight a control over the imagery his technology creates, but he certainly releases plenty of info. And yet the ignorant Mike Bara has the nerve to write (p.170) of "Malin's well-documented hostility toward the Cydonia issue."



Dee said...

Good stuff.

Now about that 'forward'. I noticed the claim that atrist Frank Gault’s father "was ex-NASA, and gave his son a large collection of Apollo-era 10x8 photo-prints, perhaps similar to Ken Johnston's collection".

Something to take on faith I suppose but is that father perhaps Donald E. Gault the planetologist who used to work at Ames Research Center? He certainly would have Moon prints in any collection left to his son considering his field of interest.

But authenticity needs a chain of reference and for some reason this is not given here, as usual with image processing Hoagland/Bara style. And somewhere was mentioned Frank turned sceptic later. The scans might have very well originated from him but any digital file cannot be called "original". What if someone just had overwritten it? Did nobody thought of actually securing that hard copy being it the only evidence of interest?


expat said...

"is that father perhaps Donald E. Gault the planetologist who used to work at Ames Research Center?"

Highly likely, I would say. Good sleuthing. I'm somewhat miffed by Terry James capitulating to Mike, having posted here "Hoagland and Bara are thieves and liars," but wtf, his decision. SOMEBODY faked in that ziggy, I'm very sure of that -- but at this point I wouldn't accuse anyone specifically. I'm quite sure Frank Gault would never release the photoprint for inspection, if he even still has it.

expat said...

Mike is such a schoolboy. Today I e-mailed him the same calculation about the second orbit of Viking 1. He replied:

"It was after dark at Cydonia, you fucking shitheap of an idiot"

...which, by the way, is not true.