Images Stir Life on Mars Debate By Leonard
David Senior Space Writer posted: 07:00 am
ET 09 July 2001
WASHINGTON -- Mars has turned into a red planet Rorschach test.
Depending on who is doing the looking, pictures snapped by the
orbiting Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) clearly show a world of big time
biota, from fields of vegetation and towering Banyan trees, to
blotches of bacteria and even a giant circuit board.
Forget the crumbling Face on Mars. That edifice has been found by
MGS to be native geology rather than carved by natives.
But day after day, as MGS plods along on its scientific
tour-of-duty, Mars does not shirk from its claim of being one weird
Odd looking structures
on Mars look like Banyan trees explains noted
The most beautiful
examples of dark dune spots (DDSs) occur in the
southern polar region (-55°
A picture from a latest
MOC image at the end of the third winter
(Ls=174°), on the dune hill of a 20 km diameter
phantom crater. It shows very clearly that dark
dune spots (DDS) DO NOT first appear on ridges
most exposed to
It doesn't matter whether Mars snapshots are examined by
do-it-yourself interpreters or scrutinized by veteran planetary
There is no doubt that there are strange doings on the red
Rife with life
Joining the ranks of those who think the MGS images may depict a
Mars rife with life is none other than prescient space writer, Sir
Clarke repeatedly has espoused his belief that something on the
red planet is changing with the seasons. Some of the Mars images can
only be reasonably interpreted in terms of vegetation, he said.
In a recent email, Clarke told SPACE.com that
"extraordinary features" are evident in select MGS photos, "which I
just can't explain."
The Red Planet
"I'm quite serious when I say have a really good look at these
new Mars images," he told an audience last month gathered at the
Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum. Talking via phone from his
residence in Sri Lanka, Clarke said signs of vegetation seem
apparent. One image showed what appeared to him looking like Banyan
trees, he said.
Clarke added a bit of humor, too. He's decided that Mars must be
inhabited "by a race of demented landscape gardeners."
Resolution of the matter
One scientific team is steadfast in their belief that life on
Mars is within reason and within the MGS photos.
Astronomer, Andras Horvath, head of the Budapest Planetarium in
Hungary, was early in spotting "dark dune spots" in MGS photos. He
and other researchers, including a theoretical biologist, as well as
an evolutionary biologist, have peered over countless MGS images.
The team argues that they see probable evidence of recent
biological activity on Mars in MGS pictures, contrasting a variety
of shots taken from 1998 into 2001. Focus of their attention has
largely been in the south polar region of Mars, studying images that
span late winter to early spring in the planet's southern
The Mars "face" has devolved over the years since it was
Nearly circular dark dune splotches can be identified in images.
They vary in size, up to roughly 700 feet (a few hundred meters) in
diameter. In springtime, circular spots can become elongated. The
highest resolution snapshots show the spots sporting inner ring
structure, the team reports.
"We have detected candidate biogenic dark dune spots in 50
craters, on 150 Mars Orbiter Camera images," said Eors Szathmary, an
evolutionary biologist at the Institute for Advanced Study and
professor of biology at Eotvos University, both in Budapest,