- Forget about ancient traces of water on Mars. There's
a little white bunny up there.
- And stone tools.
- And dinosaur fossils.
- Plants, art, even letters of the alphabet.
- While NASA scientists pore over the latest Red Planet
images for shreds of evidence that it might have supported algae or pond
scum, thousands of earnest civilians are scanning the same pictures and
pointing out all sorts of things the professionals missed or haven't acknowledged.
- Ever since the robot rovers Spirit and Opportunity landed
on Mars in January, NASA has been flooded with hundreds of daily calls
and e-mails from people eager to share their own dramatic discoveries.
- Medford resident George Filer says he has spotted letters
similar to E and G, written on Martian rocks. Filer and his associates
at MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) believe these are the creations of intelligent
beings. He's been trying to tell NASA, without success.
- "They keep a lot from the public," said Filer,
a retired Air Force pilot.
- Another observer called The Inquirer to report he'd seen
fossils of dinosaurs and their eggs, and a multitude of marine fossils
- whales, fish and giant squid. "You have to know how to look,"
he said. Others have seen rocks they say appear to have been fashioned
into primitive stone tools.
- Never before have earthlings had such sharp pictures
from another world, or such easy access to chat rooms, Web sites and virtual
communities to discuss the fossils, tools, letters and the bunny. Especially
- A white rabbitlike image appeared in some of the first
pictures beamed back from Opportunity, caught in three-quarter profile,
long ears erect.
- "Some Web sites have detailed spatial analysis on
the bunny," said project scientist Phil Christensen of Arizona State
- Christensen says he saw the bunny in the early shots
beamed back from Opportunity. He said he lobbied to have the rover take
a closer look, but the bunny disappeared.
- NASA scientists believe the "bunny" was probably
a piece of the landing air bag or some other bit of human-generated trash,
Christensen said. On one Web site, an outraged writer accused NASA of intentionally
running over the bunny with the rover.
- The notion of bunnies on Mars may seem far-fetched now,
but it wasn't all that long ago that even eminent scientists speculated
about Martian trees, animals, even intelligent beings. In the 1960s, popular
astronomer and author Carl Sagan talked up the prospect of life on both
Mars and Venus.
- A closer look at Venus showed it was more than 800 degrees
at the surface. And then in 1965, the spacecraft Mariner 4 flew by Mars
and snapped the first close-up pictures of Mars - which were both amazing
and disheartening. They revealed nothing but a dry, dead landscape.
- "There was nowhere to hide large, conspicuous organisms,"
said Harvard biologist Andrew Knoll.
- But Sagan and other scientists didn't give up hope; perhaps
life was there in a more subtle form.
- When the Viking spacecraft landed on Mars in 1976, it
ran a series of tests for life. A robotic arm on Viking mixed nutrients
with the Martian soil to see whether any microbes would metabolize them
and spit out telltale gases. The tests came back positive.
- Scientists waffled for months over whether the tests
could possibly indicate life. Meanwhile, pictures came back that showed
a rock etched with a shape similar to a letter B, said Christensen, who
worked as a NASA intern at the time.
- The NASA guys thought it was funny, he said, but many
in the public believed the B was carved by Martians. "We learned our
lesson," said Christensen. "For a lot of people, this wasn't
- NASA scientists did more analyses of the Viking landing
site and found surprises in the chemistry of the Martian soil. They decided
it was an unanticipated chemical reaction that made their life-test come
out positive. Adding to the bleak picture, they determined that the atmosphere
was less than 1 percent as thick as ours.
- According to Captured by Aliens, by Joel Achenbach, Sagan
pretty much killed the B theory when he told talk-show host Johnny Carson
it was very unlikely that Martians would use the same alphabet as Americans.
- But in 1976 NASA did it again. In pictures beamed back
from the Viking Orbiter, it noticed a hill that looked like a huge face
with a solemn expression. The agency printed and released the picture:
a cute artifact of light. It got little attention at first.
- Eight years later, in 1984, the face stared out at millions
of supermarket shoppers from the cover of the Weekly World News. Former
CBS science consultant Richard Hoagland wrote a book speculating that the
face, as well as several pyramids, were carved by an ancient Martian civilization.
- Thousands of people still believe aliens made the face,
though a later view of Mars from the Mars Global Surveyor found that, from
a different angle, it just looked like a hill.
- George Filer is not deterred. In a boulder photographed
by Spirit on its 44th Martian day, he said, there's a distinct white E
and a G, though the E may be closed off at the top, like a P. The letters
appear to be 3 to 4 inches tall, Filer said.
- In his Medford living room, he enlarged the picture on
his wide-screen TV. He still had to point out the E and the G. They looked
like they might have been chiseled or spray-painted or they might have
been created by streaks of light that happened to look like letters.
- "I could see easily how NASA would miss them,"
he said. "What we do is blow them up, so to speak, on the computer,
using Photoshop and the like. If you believe there's something out there,
you look for evidence."
- Christensen said NASA can't make announcements about
such observations unless scientists rule out more mundane explanations.
They have to be wary of belief. As physicist Richard Feynman once said:
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the
easiest person to fool.
- Some people at NASA probably know about the letters and
much more, Filer said. "I was in the military and there are a lot
of things you can't talk about." He believes NASA is trying to hide
that Mars and the universe are teeming with life.
- NASA's Michelle Viotti, the agency's manager for Mars
public engagement, said she's not ignoring Filer; it's just that the phones
are ringing off the hook, and the space agency is still sorting through
the more than 15,000 e-mails it got from the public in January. NASA is
not hiding anything, she said.
- "Secretly, deep down, we all hope there's life beyond
our own home planet."
- From Mark
- Rather than poking fun at this echo chamber of unsatisfactory
explanations to what Flam calls "flakes" are finding in some
of the images coming back from Mars, I have an idea for NASA. But first
a comment to Miss Flam I would not call you a "flake" for making
the huge mistake of voting for Bush in 2000 and I'm sure that you have
a few questionable beliefs of your own. NASA should set up a web page
devoted to giving the latest theories and hypothesis and facts regarding
- The 15,000 e-mails that NASA's Mars public engagement
got in January are a sign of failure on their part. So far, NASA has
informed us that water used to exist on Mars, explained that the "magic
carpet" soil stuck together due to electro-static forces and have
given the three leading hypotheses behind what may of formed the spherules;
AND THEY WONDER WHY PEOPLE ARE EMAILING THEM. Mr. Filer is doing what
he has always done, collect what people find odd and try and occasionally
tell us what experts think and show us what people report... I think NASA
could learn something from Mr. Filer.
- To NASA's Michelle Viotti, manager for Mars public engagement;
save your staff some pain and HELP the public; Post what people find odd
and do your best to have the best qualified to explain the images the public
is sending in (heck, maybe even debunk a few of the public's misconceptions)
. Educate the public, don't make fun of them :D
Hoorah! It's about time someone said something about this explosion of
visual idiocy surrounding Mars and its rocks and dirt. Just as preposterous
as the great face on Mars,
- which turned out to be nothing but a mountain like any
other, people see what they want to see. They want to see critters, so
they see critters. They want to see letters, so they see letters. These
are the same kind of people who see faces of Jesus or the virgin Mary in
burnt tacos, on the sides of aging water towers and in the turbulent bark
of trees. Thankfully, NASA will conduct itself rationally and scientifically,
and we won't be hearing any ridiculous assertions about the remains of
a civilization on Mars, and not very likely any evidence of microbial life,
either -- water or no water. But that won't stop people from seeing whatever
their wild imaginations desire in photographs. There are still people who
believe we never went to the moon and still people who think the world