Tuesday, July 26, 2016

40 Years of the Face on Mars

        We seem to be doing anniversaries right now. When a newspaper column or a TV show falls back on anniversaries, it's a sign that the editors and producers can't come up with anything better. That's very likely true of blogs, too. My favorite targets haven't been very blogworthy lately. Richard Hoagland is doing his 5-nights-a-week radio chat shownote 1 (although replays and glitches seem to be making it more like 3-nights-a-week) -- Mike Bara is prowling the bars of Santa Monica in search of wife #2 and tweeting hate against muslims (weirdly, apostrophizing the word) -- Robert Morningstar is totally wrapped up in politics and will probably stay that way until after the election. Kerry Cassidy is off in Europe spending her fans' money and not contributing much to pseudoscience except to write of the Bastille Day massacre in Nice "The signs are clear.  False Flag."note 2. (WHAT signs Kerry?)

        So fine, we'll do anniversaries. 40 years ago today the press on the NASA beat were shown the image that launched a thousand theories.

credit: NASA/JPL

        The image was actually acquired the previous day, 25 July 1976, from a range of 1873 kilometers (1162 miles).note 3 note 4 The Viking 1 orbiter was still in its site certification orbit, 1513 x 33,000 km. The image was designated 035A72, meaning the 72nd image taken on the 35th orbit.The resolution of the image was 48 m/px at the center. A second Viking image (070A13) was acquired on 30 July, 35 orbits later, with slighly improved resolution (44.7 m/px.)note 5. Viking Orbiters acquired sixteen more images of "Owen Mesa" but at much poorer resolutionsnote 6.

        It was not to be until 5 April 1998 that the next image was acquired, by Mars Global Surveyor, and it was a massive disappointment. Even contrast-enhanced, it looked like this:

credit: MSSS

        When Malin Space Science specialists used every enhancement trick they knew, they came up with this:

credit: MSSS

        The resolution of that image is 4.3 m/px -- almost exactly ten times better than the best Viking shot. The problem was that haze and dust covered the area.note 7. The above image was notoriously dubbed "a catbox" by Art Bell during discussion with Richard Hoagland on Coast to Coast AM. I heard that show and I'll never forget Hoagland making an utter fool of himself by yelling "Somebody stole six gray levels!"

        However, a better enhancement was carried out by Tim Parker of JPLnote 8, and that became the Astronomy Picture OTD on 7 April.

        MGS went off and did real science for three years, but on 8 April 2001 another opportunity to shoot Owen Mesa arose, this time in clear conditions and from directly overhead. Hooray! With a lower orbit, the resolution improved to 1.56 m/px.


A full resolution version (5.3 MB) can be viewed here.

        In April 2002, Mars Odyssey returned images from its polar oebit in both infra-red and visible light. The IR image had a resolution of 100 m/px, but the visible-light image was much better, 19 m/px.


        Next up was the ESA's Mars Express. Initially frustrated by the same appalling weather as had bedeviled MGS, on 22 July 2006, during orbit #3253, the High Resolution Stereo Camera acquired enough color images at a resolution of 13.7 m/px for a 3-D compilation to be made.note 9. An animation was even released.

credit: ESA

        Until men land on Mars and explore, we're unlikely to see a better image than this one, acquired on 5 April 2007 by the HiRISE telescope on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter at a range of 300 km.note 10. Its resolution is 25 cm/px -- the size of a small dinner plate. Click to see the real thing.

credit: MSSS/JPL/Univ. Ariz.

        So, to sum up, we've gone from a resolution of 44.7 m/px to 0.25 m/px in these steps:

Viking 1976: 44.7
Mars Global Surveyor 1998: 4.3 but fogged
Mars Global Surveyor 2001: 1.56
Mars Odyssey 2002: 19
Mars Express 2006: 13.7 color, stereo
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter 2007: 0.25

        If this were a purposefully created artifact, it stands to reason that as resolution improved we would see and appreciate more and more detail of the workmanship. In fact, the reverse has happened -- we get more and more convinced that Owen Mesa is... well, just a mesa.

[1] Speaking of anniversaries, July 21 was the first anniversary of Hoagland's show. My personal prediction that it would sink without trace before Thanksgiving was way off.
[2] Kerry's blog, 15 July 
[3] Viking Press Release   P-17384
[4] Data page on 035A72 
[5] Data page on 070A13
[6] Malin Space Science Systems page, 1995. I call the feature "Owen Mesa" in honor of Tobias Owen who first noticed it
[7] MSSS data page 
[8] JPL release  6 April 1998
[9] ESA release
[10] HiRISE data page


Steve said...

Those are some great images. Though the Viking one is the only "accurate" one, right?

And thanks for the link to Kerry's site. I've been (mostly) conspiritard-free lately. I'm guessing the Sweet Meteor of Death could hit the Earth and she'd still be screaming "FALSE FLAG!!!!!"

It's unfortunate more people aren't spewing craziness. I always enjoy your entertaining critiques.

Dee said...

Thanks Expat for the succinct summary of the Face imagery.

E: "it stands to reason that as resolution improved we would see and appreciate more and more detail of the workmanship."

Well, I don't agree with that, it also stands to reason it would have been designed (if design had anything to do with it) to have been viewed from a far away position, some orbiting body or telescope on a neighboring planet. Otherwise it would not make sense to make something of which the main features never would be clear to anyone.

That said, I'm still surprised at how regular the mesa appears in places. For me that always stood out, not any "Facial features" which were always at best deformed or monstrous (alien? hybrid?). The platform itself implies here and there some cool regularity like a frame or pedestal. I do think to many minds that helped to activate the paradolia.

All in all, the real death blow to any artificial theory was in my opinion what ended up NOT showing: any sign of any other artificial element, road, building, tool or more art works, despite many attempts to identify them (rather randomly). Of course they might have been withered away with only the largest feature left but a theory which needs to many "ifs" becomes extremely circumspect. Real science needs also a theory, some context, to draw up more tests, more falsification. The face does not allow for any as nobody really knows where to look for, which chemical, which temperature, which anomaly exactly to get to a coherent idea on where it would have come from. This turns all Cydonian theories into non-science. Not impossible as such but needing increasing elaborate theories to keep it all going. Always a bad and desperate sign.

expat said...

Dee: Thanks for the comment. Yes, the base of the face is remarkably symmetrical, but then dry windy conditions create yardangs on Earth about which the same could be said.

Chris Lopes said...

Does anyone know at what point Hoagland latched onto the face? I mean sure it was his ticket to the land of woo, but did he see that right away or did it take a few years for him to see that?

expat said...

I can give a partial answer. I first became aware that he was recruiting colleagues for a serious study of the question when I was talking to Brian O'Leary, who was one of Hoagland's would-be colleagues. That would have been about 1985ish. The first edition of The Monuments of Mars was 1987, so I assume that it was while he was writing that (in jail?) that the idea came to him.

Chris Lopes said...

That goes along with a rather cryptic (and very brief) online conversation I had with the space artist Don Davis. He knew Hoagland back in the day and suggested something happened to him in the early 1980's that made him turn to the dark side.

expat said...

If you pull up "Monuments" on Amazon, quite a large part of the preface material is readable in the "Look Inside" mode, and there's no doubt about his obsession with the Face.

Chris Lopes said...

Do you have a link for that? I did a search on Hoagland in Amazon and the only things that came up were the book with Bara and the Pluto book.

expat said...

It's over here Chris.

Chris Lopes said...

Thanks Expat. My mistake was looking for a Kindle addition. Apparently no one thinks that masterpiece is worth the effort to digitize.

jourget said...

I found a 4th-edition copy of Monuments in a used bookstore a while back and snagged it then, since no money would actually be going back to RCH at that point.

In the early chapters, he discusses how he first got into the Face. Vincenet DiPietro and Gregory Molenaar were the ones who first thought the Face looked artificial and did some early enhancement work in the late 70s. RCH first ran into them at the 1981 "The Case for Mars" conference in Boulder, Colorado, where he picked up one of their pamphlets. Interestingly, he says he then forgot about it for about two years. Then in July of 1983, he was looking into a supposedly immensely powerful "point-like" radio source in Saturn's B-ring when he again became interested in D and M's image enhancements. After getting a hold of a new copy of their booklet and copies of the actual photographs, he promptly found the "City" nearby, which is where things really got moving.

According to RCH: "The "Independent Mars Investigation" formally began December 5, 1983...[and] ended seven months later, with the "poster session" paper summarizing our results, presented to the Case for Mars II Conference, held at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in July, 1984."

The few years after that were occupied by a series of "investigations" with Very Serious Names, and the chapters outlining them are full of the usual cloak-and-dagger stuff you expect from RCH, with simple disagreements and innocuous comments being blown way out of proportion into evidence of the nefarious doings surrounding him at all times. One particularly amusing encounter took place on January 12, 1985, when RCH talked with Carl Sagan about Cydonia following a Planetary Society presentation at the National Academy of Sciences. According to RCH, he and Sagan had a brief conversation beneath the Academy dome during the reception, surrounded by bigwigs who he was totally convinced were watching them converse about Mars out of the corners of their eyes. It's kind of a fascinating glimpse into RCH's "I am the center of everything" mindset. Sagan wasn't convinced by RCH's theories, of course.

expat said...


vonmazur said...

Gentlemen: Did not Hoagland once claim that NASA had bombed the face?? I seem to remember him with Art Bell making that claim...

Unknown said...

I remember that day well, as Viking sent back those images, one of the mission control guys saying on TV "Hey, look at this, it looks like a face". No repercussions for blowing their cover. Nobody got whacked by NASA goons.

Carl Sagan had a picture of it and a discussion in his book "The Cosmic Connection" (I loved that book. I had the edition with the cool pictures).
Interestingly, the "porn" on the Pioneer 10 plaque caused more controversy than the Face.

Another anniversary; the Web was 10,000 days old last Thursday.

expat said...

Von: Bombed the Face? I don't recall that. Maybe you're mis-remembering his silly comments about the LCROSS mission. He definitely claimed that LCROSS bombed a lunar base, and had jpeg artifacts and over-zoomed pixellation to prove it.

Chris Lopes said...

Sagan also mentioned the face in his book "A Demon Haunted World". Hoagland claims Sagan's take on it (it's probably just a mesa, but if we are going to Mars anyway, we might as well check it out) caused TPTB to give him cancer.

Binaryspellbook said...

I remember Hoagland on C2C claiming that NASA could have bombed the face to make it less facelike. This was in response to the later high quality images that showed it wasn't a face.

Binaryspellbook said...

Hoagland also claimed that Dr Sagan said to him, "keep up the good work." In reference to his face bunkum. If Carl Sagan did say those words I would really have liked to have heard the tone in which he said them.