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The "mats" on Mars

To answer Robert Crawley's indignant question: I put Horvath's hypothesis
about algal mats on Mars at the very end of my lengthy article because it
sems to be considered extremely unlikely by the scientific community in
general -- the surface of Mars is a very nasty environment for any kind of
living things, there are (as I said) all sorts of plausible non-organic
explanations, and the evidence Horvath provided for their being algal mats
rather than simple patterns of defrosting was (as I pointed out) so thin
that even a non-scientist can see holes in it.  If he turns out to be
correct, I'll hvae an awful lot of crow to eat -- but the odds are extremely
strong that I am correct.

The best way to double-check on the hypothesis would be simply to take
near-IR spectra of the dark areas -- which should be able to clearly detect
chlorophyll or any other organic substances in them, as well as detecting
water frost and CO2 frost, and identifying different types of minerals
(sulfates?) that may exist in the dunes.  The "OMEGA" near-IR spectrometer
on Mars Express -- which has a top resolution of several hundred meters --
may well be able to do the job adequately, since some of the dark areas are
over a kilometer across.  If it doesn't, the much higher-resolution near-IR
spectrometer planned for the 2005 U.S. orbiter should certainly be able to
do so.

One other note: how much has the contrast been cranked up in the released
MGS photos beyond that which would be seen by the naked eye, in order to
bring out detail?  It may be that these "dark" spots aren't nearly as
dramatically dark-looking as they appear in the photos (as is the
explanation for the famous "White Rock", which isn't nearly that white).

Finally, I got the following message yesterday.  Mr. Orme has indeed
discovered a long parade of strange-looking -- and often eerily beautiful --
patterns of light and dark networks in Mars' polar areas, including the
picture reprinted by Skipper ).  Many whitish lines
as thin-looking as those in the Skipper photo exist in all sorts of
non-radial patterns, as well as a few other radial patterns like those in
the Skipper photo -- leaving no doubt that we're looking at some sort of
frost-connected phenomenon, which may be running along the crests of dunes
in many cases.  There are also some equally thready -- and sometimes
radial -- DARK "threads".  I have no doubt that we're looking at seasonal
meteorological phenomena, although they're completely non-Earthly and maybe
quite complex in nature.

-----Original Message-----
From: <>
To: <>
Date: Saturday, June 23, 2001 3:46 AM
Subject: M0804688

>Dear Mr. Moomaw,
>  I recently noticed some questions about a photo M0804688. I
>actually was the one who discovered this and have put together a web
>site of many like it at:
>  You will notice the site contains no comments at all about the
>photos, and only points out examples of them. I don't know what they
>are, but believe like many a biological model is a possibility. I am
>writing a paper on the subject with a geologist Peter Ness which we
>hope to submit very soon. In this we describe many possible inorganic
>models, with some mention of biological theories for the sake of
>  Some points in favour of a biological model are that these areas
>appear to be above zero degrees celsius for much of the summer, the
>spiders seem to wither away or at least not be visible in winter, and
>they may exhibit fibonacci like branching like plants do on earth.
>  Other than that, who knows?

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