The Game's afoot -- Again

"All government agencies lie part of the time, but NASA is the only one I've
 ever encountered that does so routinely."

George A. Keyworth, II

-- George A. Keyworth, Science Adviser to the President (Reagan) and Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy, in testimony before the 99th Congress, March 14th, 1985

As we reminded everyone earlier this month (see "Will Mars Odyssey Finally Let The "Cat Out of The Bag?" Feb. 8th, 2002), we are hopeful to soon see some of our earliest predictions vis--vis the Face on Mars come to fruition with new data from the current Mars Odyssey mission. One of the reasons that we remain optimistic is NASA's promise (for what it is worth) that the Face and Cydonia would be early targets of the spacecraft's visible light color camera and Thermal Emission Imaging System, which will give us ground penetrating views of what lies just beneath the sands of Mars.

Interest in this data has been ramped up this week in a story on by veteran science writer Leonard David, in which NASA project scientists describe the early data (it's been in the "science phase" of the mission since February 19th) returned from the THEMIS instrument as "amazing", and "a whole new Mars." While the story is short on details, it's clear by reading between the lines that the data which is causing such a stir internally is from the infrared camera, and that raises a whole series of interesting questions. Some of these may be answered in a press briefing scheduled for Friday, March 1st, 2002.

Other speculations may take more time to be addressed. Even though we have that previous NASA promise, there is no reason to suspect that the data to be released on Friday will concern the Face or Cydonia, or for that matter even address the question of artificiality in any meaningful way. As President Reagan's science advisor put it so well back in the Eighties, a NASA promise is not worth paper it's printed on, or for that matter, the web page it's displayed on.

Sean O'Keefe

But if the data itself is honest -- and given the new attitude in place since the Bush administration took office and replaced Dan Goldin with Sean O'Keefe, it might be -- then we may yet have reason to hope that something interesting will be revealed on Friday. Whether the subject of NASA's press brief has anything to do with Cydonia, or perhaps provides further confirmation of our increasingly compelling "Mars Tidal Model" remains to be seen. But the important thing to remember is that the way NASA spins what they present (and make no mistake, just as they did with last year's Face image, they will spin it) is increasingly irrelevant. What will matter is what the data shows, not what NASA decides to emphasize politically.

There are those that will tell you that NASA is open and honest, that anyone who questions the Agency is to be marginalized as a "conspiracy theorist". The reality is that anyone who has had dealings with the Agency, as former Reagan science advisor Keyworth did, or anyone who has attempted to hold the Agency accountable to the public, as we have, knows full well the reason that early reporters on the NASA beat referred to the Agency by its well-earned nickname; "Never A Straight Answer."

What has always counter-balanced the lack of integrity in the upper levels at NASA is the fact that it is marginally a civilian organization, dependant in at least some measure on public support and congressional approval for it existence. One gets the sense that the public side of NASA, the one that is always given a free ride in the press, deeply resents the accountability that comes with this public trust and would just as soon leave most of its discoveries behind closed doors under the protective mantle of the defense department which is its primary client. Unfortunately for the more "black-ops" oriented among the NASA hierarchy, the majority of the brain power that the Agency feeds off of is in the public sector, forcing at least a modicum of openness on certain issues.

We've had a long history of broken promises and misdirection by NASA (remember how the Agency was going to give "forewarning" of MGS image releases of Cydonia? Or how for 17 years, they insisted that there were "disconfirming" Viking images of the Face taken on the "next orbit" after 35A72, only to finally publicly admit what we'd said for almost two decades -- no such picture existed?). But through it all, we have still managed to get our hands on crucially important data -- like the Viking images of Cydonia, or the early Lunar photography, or the stunning Pathfinder anomalies.

So what if, this time, we just focus on the data itself, rather than how NASA spins it to the munchkin-sized brains in the press room? Those of us longing for some sort of official "disclosure" on artificiality or even a radical geologic theory like the Tidal model are missing the point. "Disclosure" is not going to happen with the President sitting at his desk in the oval office, with the paned windows and pictures of his family behind him, dourly reassuring us that it is worth going to work tomorrow despite the stunning revelations of the "last 24 hours". Disclosure has been happening all around us, and right in front of us, pretty much unabated since the "Sirius clock" turned us all toward a new millennium. We are being given the data, in bits and pieces, and pretty much allowed to make up our own minds what we think of it. NASA's own relevancy in the greater scheme of things is increasingly precarious -- perhaps even by design -- as it becomes more and more obvious to those of us that are paying attention just how truly wonderful and strange a place Mars, and our solar system, really is.

The weak-minded and arrogant among us (you know, the people who read "Skeptical Inquirer" and the "diseased minds" Robert Temple has spoken of) will continue to be comforted by the official pronouncements, while the rest of Society quietly accepts a new Reality and scoffs at the caution with which the Establishment treats the data.

The whole pattern positively reeks of "Brookings."

Rest assured, we are not going to allow NASA to get away with another "Catbox" fraud, or another MOLA-like scam, but we need to focus more on what is important here. If we are as right about this as we have been about so many other issues over the years, Friday could be a very interesting day indeed.

Now, if only we had some hint of what may be coming at the press briefing ...

The first "leak" in this process appeared about two weeks ago.

A series of images suddenly appeared on the web, purportedly from Mars and leaked from a company called "IEC". They included color, infrared and radar imagery of an "Anomaly 502" that was supposed to be of some Martian ruins just below the surface. While we have serious doubts about the legitimacy of the image, it is exactly the sort of "trial balloon" that a "Brookings" pattern of disclosure would mandate. Put out an image, see what the reaction is, and decide whether to go ahead with your disclosure based on the response. So while we were somewhat unimpressed with the execution, the timing and content of the release jogged our memories and got us to thinking ....

Why a couple of weeks before the article and the press conference? And why use infrared and other ground penetrating technologies? Why not just forge a doctored up surface anomaly?

Then we remembered ...

Mars Odyssey will not be the first probe from Earth to use ground penetrating technologies in Mars orbit.

The Russians sent two probes, named "Phobos 1" and "Phobos 2" to Mars in the late 1980's, to study the surface and atmospheric properties of the planet, and the composition of one of its two moons, Phobos. Phobos 1 failed along the way, but Phobos 2 made it all the way to Mars and operated nominally for period of several weeks. Its disappearance has become the stuff of UFO lore, but in the process the spacecraft made numerous valuable observations of both Phobos and Mars. One of the most curious was that Phobos density was found to be extremely anomalous. According to a paper published in the October 19th, 1989 issue of the scientific journal Nature, Phobos had a bizarre density of 1.95 g/ ("19.5" anyone?), meaning it was almost 1/3 hollow! Since both Martian "Moons" are actually captured asteroids (and therefore consistent with the Tidal Model), this finding is extraordinary. There is virtually no way that a solid object like Phobos can be "hollowed out" in this manner naturally, leaving a really big question -- just who hollowed it out ... and why?

But things got even more interesting when Phobos 2 was rotated to look at Mars itself. The probe carried an infrared spectrometer, a device not too different from the infrared thermal imager today on Mars Odyssey. While it lacked the resolution of Odyssey's far better THEMIS camera, the infrared device on Phobos 2 also gave the Russian scientists the capability to discern buried objects just below the surface of the planet (covered with sand or dust) -- via their relative rates of cooling.

And guess what?

In 1989, just after the loss of  Phobos 2, a program appeared on England's independent "Channel 4" revealing the discoveries of the Phobos 2 probe. Among them was a tantalizing infrared image ...

Click on image for close-ups

This image, taken in the Hydraotes Chaos region (0.9 north, 34.3 west), showed what seemed to be a fairly mundane landscape in the visible light spectrum. But when the IR filter was applied to the same area, an astonishing rectilinear pattern appeared just beneath the sand. This regular, highly geometric pattern (across an area the size of Los Angeles!) is strongly indicative of a cityscape just under the surface. Although some of the rectilinear features seem to be aligned with the scan lines of the image, others are unmistakably not aligned, and are also curved and somewhat geometrically irregular, as they would be if they were wrapping around uneven topography. Clearly, they are incredibly similar to some sort of buried (regular/geometric) construction or tunnel system.

And there was no question that a lot of people noticed just how weird this all was. The program featured comments from Dr. John Becklake of the London Science Museum (and a very sober guy), and he left no doubt about what he thought of the images.

Interviewed in front of an exhibit that was obviously prepared with the help of the Russians (remember, it was still the Soviet Union then), Becklake was unequivocal: "The city-like pattern is 60 kilometers wide and could easily be mistaken for an aerial view of Los Angeles." The program went on to show excerpts from a Soviet Space Research Institute press briefing in which the anomalies were discussed.

And yet, all of this high level interest in this story by scientific heavyweights was virtually ignored in the United States. It just wasn't reported.

So maybe, just maybe, Phobos 2 gave us a preview of what we will see come Friday. If the infrared images from Odyssey are in anyway similar to what Phobos 2 found, NASA is going to have a hard time spinning the data. They'll obviously try to float nonsense like "lava tubes" as an explanation, but it is hardly likely that will stick. Our own model, put forth in 2000 (see "Where's a Good Plumber when You Need One?", June 2000) that Mars is covered with subsurface "plumbing", is possibly going to receive substantial support.

Or, it could be something completely different. But we have a sneaking suspicion that we're guessing right on this one. Never forget that NASA is an Agency steeped in ritual and bound by a Brookings-like code of behavior. Even after their desperate and pathetic attempts to spin the April 8th Face image, the majority of respondents on MSNBC's web poll concluded that the new image increased their certainty that the Face was artificial. Maybe that result convinced NASA that the time was right to release the next phase of the "disclosure" data. Or maybe we're just on a pre-determined "disclosure curve" that can't be stopped.

After all, the Phobos 2 images of Mars were taken on March 1st, 1989.

Yep. Exactly 13 years to the day before this upcoming NASA press conference. How's that for a "coincidence?"

Stay Tuned. It should be an interesting day.

PS - If anyone can find an MGS image of the area in question, we would very much like to see it. It is possible that MGS has re-photographed this area, but we have not had time to look and match up specific surface features as of yet.