...and not just any
sneaker, but a Nike
sneaker. Hoagland said he's putting together a video presentation of the many "unmistakably artificial" objects captured by the cameras of Curiosity since the triumphant landing on 6th August. Apparently he showed some of these to a paying audience at the recent Conscious Life Expo in Los Angeles, and was rewarded by "an audible gasp" when the sneaker had its Powerpoint moment of fame. We'll have to wait for his video to see what he means (and by the way, he said it will be free
—that produced an audible gasp from me), but I suspect it'll just be this smooth rock imaged by the navigation camera quite early in the mission.
No, it's this rock — enhanced by an added black border, I see:
credit: Richard Hoagland's Photoshop operator
You have to wonder about the mental age of his audience, who apparently didn't stop to think a) How Hoagland knew it was a Nike, or b) WTF a sneaker of any kind would be doing on Mars, where they don't play basketball or even tennis.
However, the primary sujet du jour
was not sports footwear, but methane.
Methane on Mars
"The bottom line is that we have no detection of methane so far," said Chris Webster at a JPL press conference yesterday. Webster is the man on the Tunable Laser Spectrometer, which could have detected methane at a concentration as low as 10 parts per billion, if it had been present. Richard Hoagland was hustled (or maybe hustled himself) onto the radio show to comment.
Hoagland, actually, did not get it all wrong. He reminded us that methane in the Martian atmosphere appears to be a seasonal phenom, and Curiosity is in winter conditions right now. He said "this is a first look, just one data point." All that is true. He reminded us that micro-biological activity is not the only possible explanation for the emanations, and that the true test will come if and when the JPL boffins can detect which carbon isotope Martian methane favors (C12
would be a strong indicator for biology rather than volcanism.) True againnote 1
. Well done.
If only he'd stopped there, we could all have gone back to sleep a little wiser. But no, he had to spoil it in the second hour by proposing a third possible methane theory—namely, that the gas was periodically oozing out of the long-buried rotting remains of the Great Martian Civilization that built the Face at Owen Mesa before being obliterated by a planet-busting impact 65 million years ago. That, of course, has no chance whatever of being the correct explanation because if there were such a civilization, there would be plentiful other remnants of it to examine. And I don't mean Nike sneakers.
Lack of evidence, of course, has never deterred Hoagland in the slightest. If he needs some, he invents it. Not just the so-called Face, but a Sherman tank, a crashed spaceship in the side of a crater, bits and pieces of machinery. These he has pointed to in images from previous rovers. Now, with Curiosity offering superb image quality, he finds the sneaker, a 100ft metal plate, and a printed circuit board ("looking like it was exposed to a nuclear flash," he said, as if he knew perfectly well what that would look like).
The man's mind simply doesn't work like yours and mine. He says that NASA statements at press conferences are coded—"You have to know how to read between the lines"note 2
(in other words, the statements can mean whatever he wishes they meant.) Last night's runaway prize-winner for zaniness was "We're dealing here with two separate missions, one all about the usual geology and the other about the technology of the ancient civilization" (not a verbatim
quote but close). The image of a duplicate "mission control" full of Hoagland clones gasping as the next Nike sneaker comes into view had me guffawing into my pillow.
2] He didn't say that last night. He said it about a JPL press conference on Vesta, which I blogged about at the time.